It was a display of unity meant to illustrate Republican cohesiveness following a divisive primary season between the party’s mainstream conservative and populist, MAGA-style, outsider wings.
After addressing a crowd of Republican officials, lawmakers, rainmakers and activists gathered at the New Hampshire GOP’s post-primary unity breakfast, retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc walked over to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and gave him a big hug.
Bolduc — who on Tuesday narrowly captured the Republican Senate nomination in the key general election battleground state in a race that’s one of a handful that may decide if the GOP wins back the chamber’s majority in November’s general election — stressed at the end of his speech that “we do not win without this team coming together.”
He then stepped down from the podium and approached Sununu, who was next in line to speak, and embraced the governor, who remains the most popular politician among Granite State Republicans.
The hug by Bolduc appeared to be an attempt to erase a recent history of bad blood between the two men, who now share the top of the GOP ticket on November’s ballot in New Hampshire.
National Republican leaders spent a year trying to recruit Sununu to take on Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, whom the GOP views as vulnerable as she seeks a second term in the Senate, but the governor announced last November that he would instead run for re-election.
Bolduc claimed last year that Sununu was a “communist Chinese sympathizer” and that the Sununu family’s business “supports terrorism.” While Bolduc has walked back those attacks, he has continued to criticize Sununu’s policies during the coronavirus pandemic as “executive overreach.”
A few weeks ago, Sununu said on a popular statewide talk-radio program that Bolduc was “not a serious candidate, he’s really not, and if he were the GOP nominee, I have no doubt we would have a much harder time… He’s kind of a conspiracy theorist-type candidate.”
The governor was pointing at Bolduc’s comments in support of former President Donald Trump’s repeated, unproven claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
While Sununu tempered those criticisms in recent days, ahead of the primary he endorsed Bolduc’s main rival for the nomination, longtime New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse. Bolduc ended up edging Morse by a razor-thin margin in Tuesday’s primary.
On the eve of the unity breakfast, Bolduc appeared to try and make amends with some of his past rhetoric on the campaign trial.
“A campaign is tough. It’s tough on everybody. We say things in the heat of conversation that we regret later. We hope that we can say we’re sorry for it and people forgive, but that’s not always the case. And I’m no different,” he lamented at a unity fundraiser. “I’m a man who’s fallible. A man who errs. A man who says things that perhaps should be left unsaid.”
And on Thursday morning, Bolduc stressed that “we do not win without this team coming together,” before hugging Sununu.
New Hampshire, which along with Delaware and Rhode Island held the last nominating contests of the 2022 election cycle, was host to the final high-profile and competitive Republican primaries, which throughout the past six months have often pitted conservative candidates supported by mainstream Republicans against far-right contenders often aligned with Trump and his legions of MAGA loyalists.
The patching up of primary differences has been a work in progress, but one the GOP says is essential to secure victory in November.
“Now is the time for us to unite and come together as a party in New Hampshire, come together as a party all across this country and do what needs to be done,” former Vice President Mike Pence emphasized on Wednesday night, as he headlined the fundraiser for Bolduc, which was held in Wilton.
Longtime Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, who headlined the New Hampshire GOP’s unity breakfast, told Fox News that fiery primaries often “strengthen our candidates. They have a tough primary, and then they ready for the general.”
She also highlighted that “we can absolutely come together. You look at Ohio. All the candidates in Ohio have coalesced around J.D. Vance. In Pennsylvania, (David) McCormick has supported (Mehmet) Oz. We’re seeing this across the country. And then here, to have a unity breakfast in New Hampshire… after the primary, shows how willing these candidates are to focus on what we really want to do — beat the Democrats.”
New Hampshire GOP chair Steve Stepanek warned the audience to not “take anything for granted between now and November,” and urged that “as passionately as you worked for your candidate in the primary, whether they won or lost, everyone has to work as passionately for the Republican ticket going forward.”
Stepanek told Fox News he believes Republicans can set aside primary wounds “because it’s so important given what the Democrats are doing to this country.”
But longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley, a former Democratic National Committee vice chair, disagreed as he pointed to the millions of dollars in ad spending by a mainstream GOP super PAC to blast Bolduc and support Morse during the primary.
“Republicans have spent the past two years trashing Don Bolduc as an extremist who is completely out of touch with New Hampshire. I couldn’t agree more with them — and one so-called unity breakfast can’t hide the fact that even Republicans think that Bolduc is absolutely wrong for New Hampshire,” Buckley told Fox News.
And DNC rapid response director Ammar Moussa argued that “Republicans across the country are stumbling into the general election season after a vicious primary season marred by poor candidate quality and infighting at the highest levels of the party. If Republicans are uniting around anything, it’s around their extreme agenda to ban abortion in every state across the country.”
At the start of the summer, Republicans were energized as they pushed to regain the House and Senate majorities, enjoying historical headwinds (the party that wins the White House traditionally suffers setbacks in the ensuing midterm elections) as well as a favorable political climate fueled by skyrocketing gas prices, record inflation, soaring crime and parents’ discontent with their children’s schools following pandemic shutdowns. The campaign conditions, capped off by President Biden’s cratering poll numbers, put the Democrats on the defensive.
But with Democrats energized following a string of ballot box successes this summer in the wake of the move by the conservative majority of the Supreme Court to rescind the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling and send the issue of legalized abortion back to the states — in addition to the summer-long easing of gas prices, a string of major legislative victories for Democrats in Congress and the president’s rising (but still underwater) approval ratings — what once seemed like a GOP electoral tidal wave in November has been dramatically downsized by political handicappers.
Asked about the Democrats targeting of Republicans on abortion, McDaniel told Fox News that “abortion is going to be an issue the Democrats are going to want to talk about because they don’t want talk about inflation. They don’t want to talk about crime. And our candidates need to address it. They need to share their position, and then they need to say, ‘You know what, voters care about more than just one thing.’”
She also asserted, “I think it’s insulting as a woman that Democrats try to put women in a single-issue voter category. We care the economy right now. We care about parents, and all of our candidates are going to address that and make sure that we’re focusing on what the two major issues are for voters, and they are crime and inflation.”
The RNC chair also spotlighted the national party’s efforts to turn out the vote in the midterms, especially in the crucial battleground states.
“We’re in all these states. We’re in New Hampshire — RNC doesn’t do TV; a lot of people don’t understand that. We’ve been training volunteers for two years. We’ve had engagement centers in Black, Asian, Hispanic communities — 38 across the country. We’re going to keep reaching out to voters. Share our message. Talk about the contrast between our two parties. And that’s how we’re going to win,” McDaniel emphasized.