Trump’s Willing Accomplice

Yesterday, ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos conducted a skillful and revealing interview with New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. Over nine damning minutes, Sununu illustrated how deep into the Republican Party the rot has gone.

The context for the interview is important. Governor Sununu is hardly a MAGA enthusiast. During the 2024 GOP primary, he supported Nikki Haley, and over the past several years, he’s been a harsh critic of Donald Trump. Sununu has referred to him as a “loser,” an “asshole,” and “not a real Republican.” He has said the nation needs to move past the “nonsense and drama” from the former president and that he expects “some kind of guilty verdict” against Trump. “This is serious,” Sununu said last June. “If even half of this stuff is true, he’s in real trouble.”

Most significant, as Stephanopoulos pointed out, five days after January 6, Sununu said, “It is clear that President Trump’s rhetoric and actions contributed to the insurrection at the United States Capitol Building.”

During the interview, Sununu didn’t distance himself from any of his previous comments; in fact, he doubled down on them. He reaffirmed that Trump “absolutely contributed” to the insurrection. “I hate the election denialism of 2020,” Sununu said. And he admitted that he’d be very uncomfortable supporting Trump if he were convicted of a felony. But no matter, Sununu reiterated to Stephanopoulos that he’ll vote for Trump anyway.

“Look, nobody should be shocked that the Republican governor is supporting the Republican president,” Sununu said.

It’s worth examining the reasons Sununu cited to justify his support for Trump. The main one, according to the New Hampshire governor, is “how bad Biden has become as president.” Sununu cited two issues specifically: inflation, which is “crushing people,” and the chaos at the southern border.

Let’s take those issues in reverse order. Any fair-minded assessment would conclude that Joe Biden has been a failure on border security—crossings at the southern border are higher than ever—and that the president is rightfully paying a political price for it. His record in this respect is worse than Trump’s.

But Trump’s record is hardly impressive. He never got close to building the wall he promised, and fewer people who were illegally in America were deported during the Trump presidency than during the Obama presidency. Illegal border crossings, as measured by apprehensions at the southwest border, were nearly 15 percent higher in Trump’s final year in office than in the last full year of Barack Obama’s term—when Trump called the border “broken.” Illegal immigration has bedeviled every modern American president.

More incriminating is that earlier this year, Republicans, at the urging of Trump, sabotaged what would arguably have been the strongest border-security bill ever, legislation supported by Biden. So why did Republicans, who have lacerated Biden for his lax enforcement policies, oppose a bill that included so much of what they demanded? Because they wanted chaos to continue at the southern border, in order to increase Trump’s chances of winning the election. That tells you what the Republican priority is.

As for inflation: During the Biden presidency, it soared to more than 9 percent—inflation was a global crisis, not specific to the United States—but has cooled to about 3.5 percent. (When Trump left office, inflation was less than 2 percent.) America’s inflation rate is now among the lowest in the world. More important, wages are rising faster than prices for ordinary workers, and low-wage workers have experienced dramatic real-wage growth over the past four years and for the first time in decades.

More broadly, the American economy is the best in the world. The United States recovered from the coronavirus pandemic better than any other nation. Interest rates are the highest in decades, but America’s GDP significantly outpaced those of other developed countries in 2023. The economy grew by more than 3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2023, which is higher than the average for the five years preceding the pandemic. Monthly job growth under Biden, even if you exclude “catch up” growth figures in the aftermath of the pandemic, has been record-setting. Trump’s record, pre-pandemic, isn’t close.

In 2023, we saw the highest share of working-age Americans employed in more than two decades, while the Biden administration has overseen more than two years of unemployment below 4 percent, the longest such streak since the late 1960s. At the end of last year, retailers experienced a record-setting holiday season. The stock market recently posted an all-time high; so did domestic oil production. The number of Americans without health insurance has fallen to record lows under Biden. Trump claims that crime “is rampant and out of control like never, ever before.” In fact, violent crime—after surging in the last year of the Trump presidency (largely because of the pandemic)—is declining dramatically. As for abortions, during the Trump presidency, they increased by 8 percent after 30 years of near-constant decline.

Even if Republicans want to insist that Biden’s policies had nothing to do with any of this, even if these positive trends are happening in spite of Biden rather than because of him, America during the Biden presidency is hardly the hellscape that MAGA world says it is and at times seems to be rooting for it to be. On Biden’s watch, for whatever constellation of reasons, a good deal has gone right. And deep down, Trump supporters must know it, even as they wrestle with reality in order to deny it.

So the underlying premise that Sununu and MAGA world rely on to justify their support for Donald Trump—that if Biden wins, “our country is going to be destroyed,” as Trump said during a rally on Saturday—is false. Which raises the question: What is the reason Sununu has rallied to Trump?

It’s impossible to fully know the motivations of others, but it’s reasonable to assume that Sununu wants to maintain his political viability within the Republican Party. He’s undoubtedly aware that to break with Trump would derail his political ambitions. But for Sununu, like so many other Republicans, that partisan loyalty comes at the cost of his integrity.

Chris Sununu is not a true believer, like some in MAGA world. He’s not psychologically unwell, like others. He knows who Trump is, and what the right thing to do is—to declare, as Liz Cheney has done, that she will not vote for Donald Trump under any circumstances.

“I certainly have policy differences with the Biden administration,” she has said. “I know the nation can survive bad policy. We can’t survive a president who is willing to torch the Constitution.”

Donald Trump has shown he’s willing to do that and more. Sununu is pledging fealty to a man who, among other things, attempted to overturn an election, summoned and assembled a violent mob and directed it to march on the Capitol, and encouraged the mob to hang his vice president. He sexually assaulted and defamed a woman, paid hush money to a porn star, and allegedly falsified records to cover up the affair. Trump controlled two entities that were found guilty of 17 counts of criminal tax fraud and falsifying business records. He invited a hostile foreign power (Russia) to interfere in one American election and attempted to extort an allied nation (Ukraine) to interfere in another four years later. He has threatened prosecutors, judges, and the families of judges. And he has been indicted in four separate criminal cases, one of which begins today.

Trump has championed crazed and racist conspiracy theories, dined with avowed anti-Semites, and mocked war heroes, people with handicaps, and the dead. He has swooned over the most brutal dictators in the world, sided with Russian intelligence over American intelligence, abused his pardon power, and said we should terminate the Constitution. He obsessively told his staff to use the FBI and the IRS to go after his critics.

Donald Trump makes Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton look like Boy Scouts.

It’s not all that uncommon for politicians to put party above country, to bend and to break when pressure is applied. Courage is a rare virtue, and tribal loyalties can be extremely powerful. But this is not any other time, and Trump is not any other politician. He is a man of kaleidoscopic corruption. There is virtually nothing he won’t do in order to gain and maintain power. And he telegraphs his intentions at all hours of the day and night.

Given all Trump has done, and given all we know, the claim that Joe Biden—whatever his failures, whatever his limitations, whatever his age—poses a greater threat to the republic than Donald Trump is delusional.

In his new book Finish What We Started: The MAGA Movement’s Ground War to End Democracy, Isaac Arnsdorf reminds us of something that Steve Bannon, who served as a close adviser to Trump and is one of the most influential figures in the MAGA movement, once said: “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

Chris Sununu has now enlisted in that war. What is so discouraging, and so sickening, is how many others in his party have done so as well. They are Trump’s willing accomplices.

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