Charlotte, N.C. — John Sununu does not have a Twitter account. “It would be too dangerous,” he says, cracking a mischievous grin. But from the moment the 73-year-old former New Hampshire governor arrived here, Twitter has been following him.
On Tuesday, Ed Henry, a correspondent for Fox News, spied him in the terminal and quickly informed his 53,000 followers: “Spotted: Gov. Sununu wheeling luggage thru Charlotte airport, says he’s ‘bringing faith.’”
As Sununu looked for his car, a pair of Democrats approached him. “Oh, they hurled some obnoxious comments,” he tells me, as we chat on Thursday morning. But he rolled his eyes and moved along.
As they have all year, Romney’s campaign has sent Sununu to a political hot spot to be a grandfatherly agitator. From the Republican National Committee’s war room inside of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, he has averaged 40 interviews a day. He has also had time to roam. He’s ducked inside of the Democratic National Convention and visited the Occupy camp.
But for the most part, Sununu has talked. He gets on a conference call with Romney advisers in the early morning, and spends the rest of the day pushing the message. What makes him different is how he pushes. Instead of sticking to the usual Republican platitudes and talking points, Sununu crafts his own zingers. “It just oozes out of me,” he says, when I ask how he does it.
“This gaggle of shrews, ‘he says lovingly,’ has been keeping me busy,” Sununu tells me, gesturing toward three energetic young females who are working with him. The women chuckle, but stay focused on their laptops. “Make sure you say I said ‘lovingly,’” he says, pointing at my notepad.
Sununu’s lines for Thursday revolve around the Democrats’ struggle to include God and Jerusalem in the party platform. On Tuesday, mentions of both were omitted by the platform committee, only to be reinstated on Wednesday after three torturous voice votes on the convention floor. A number of delegates booed at their reintroduction.
“They were booing God, and the vote was a farce,” Sununu says. “It reflects the president’s inability to manage anything, and if anybody wants to know why this country has a jobs problem, these guys demonstrated that they couldn’t run a one-car funeral or a lemonade stand.”
What about Bill Clinton’s speech? “The first two-thirds of the speech was a wonderful infomercial for the Clinton brand,” Sununu says. “I was waiting for the Veg-O-Matic to come out. Then near the end Clinton says, ‘By the way, someone else is running for president and I think I’m here to endorse him.”
Sununu glances at his helpers, who are booking more interviews. “You’ll probably hear more of those [lines] again today,” he admits. But he isn’t ashamed of the repetition; it’s all part of the game. “They never used to call this surrogate work,” he says. “They used to call it ‘Go find Sununu and stick a microphone in his face.’”
In a world of tightly wound, politically correct politicos, it’s okay to be a little extemporaneous as long as you’re clever, Sununu says. That’s why he didn’t mind Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, even though several prominent Republicans have scratched their heads about the actor’s shtick.
“I don’t think people appreciated that it almost put the proper metaphor for Obama in the public domain with the empty chair,” Sununu says. “I really do think the empty suit would have been more accurate, but the empty chair was sufficient.”
Sununu has attended seven Republican conventions since 1980, but this is only his second visit to the Democratic National Convention. His first trip came in 1992 in New York City. He had just signed on as a co-host of CNN’s Crossfire, after more than three years at the White House, where he worked as President George H. W. Bush’s chief of staff.
CNN gave him a press credential to cover Clinton. “As a courtesy, I went down to the floor to say hello to the New Hampshire delegation,” he recalls. While Sununu shook hands, a little-known Granite State mayor was up at the podium, talking about his town. As the mayor spoke, a camera inside of the arena panned to Sununu, who was booed.
“There I was on the huge screen and this poor mayor thinks people are booing him,” Sununu laughs. “The guy got just discombobulated.”
Sununu will spend the rest of Thursday doing what he can to discombobulate Obama and his advisers. “Tonight will be the direct and indirect ‘blame Bush’ event,” Sununu says. “Keep an eye on the president’s right arm, which will be three inches longer than his left arm because he has been patting himself on the back so much during speech rehearsals.”
Inside the war room, the GOP operatives love that joke. “I’ve been sharing that today,” Sununu says. “I’m happy to take the president to task. This is the most dishonest set of presentations I’ve ever seen. They’re either lying or embellishing things that are barely true. So we’re here to provide the alternative data and the alternative commentary.”
“Frankly, it’s fun watching these guys screw up,” Sununu says.
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.