Sarah Huckabee Sanders (1982–)
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a political operative and commentator, is the daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and served as press secretary for President Donald Trump. In January 2021, she announced her candidacy for governor of Arkansas. With the stated support of Trump, Sanders immediately assumed the role of front-runner in the race. She was elected governor in November 2022, becoming the first woman to be elected to Arkansas’s chief executive office.
Sarah Elizabeth Huckabee was born on August 13, 1982, in Hope (Hempstead County) to Mike Huckabee and Janet McCain Huckabee; she has two older brothers. Huckabee graduated from Central High School in Little Rock in 2000 before attending Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) in Arkadelphia (Clark County). At OBU, Huckabee was elected student body president and was active in campus Republican organizations. She graduated in 2004 with a BA, having majored in political science with a minor in mass communications. While a student, Huckabee teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union in a 2002 lawsuit after a judge in Clark County ordered the county clerk to purge university students from the voter rolls on the basis that students should vote in their hometowns rather than the location where they attended school. A federal judge later ordered the students returned to the voter rolls.
As a nine-year-old, Huckabee began stuffing envelopes for her candidate father when he mounted his first campaign, an unsuccessful Senate effort in 1992. She formally began her career in politics working for her father’s 2002 gubernatorial reelection campaign, serving as a field coordinator. Some of her other early posts included regional liaison for congressional affairs at the U.S. Department of Education and Ohio field director for President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign.
Huckabee left the Bush administration to work on her father’s 2008 presidential campaign, where she served as national political director, playing an important role in engineering his upset victory in the Iowa caucuses. Following Mike Huckabee’s withdrawal, she became the director of Huck PAC, a political action committee the former governor founded with the goal of promoting conservatism and helping elect conservative candidates at all levels across the country.
Sarah Huckabee married Bryan Sanders, a campaign consultant she met during her father’s 2008 presidential campaign in Iowa, in 2010; they have three children.
Moving beyond her father’s direct political orbit, in 2010, Sanders served as campaign manager for John Boozman, who represented the Third District of Arkansas in the U.S. House of Representatives, in his effort to move to the U.S. Senate. She helped develop the strategy that established Boozman as an alternative to the incumbent, Senator Blanche Lincoln, whom they labeled as a “solid vote for President Obama.” Boozman defeated Lincoln by twenty-one percentage points, becoming the first Republican to be elected to the seat since Reconstruction. Time magazine named Sanders one of their “40 under 40” in 2010.
Sanders joined Tsamoutales Strategies, a consulting firm based in Tallahassee, Florida, in 2011, becoming a vice president of the group in January 2014. In July 2011, she joined the fledgling presidential campaign effort of Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. However, Pawlenty ended his candidacy by the end of the summer.
In 2014, she served as an advisor to Tom Cotton, who represented the Third District of Arkansas in the U.S. House of Representatives, in his ultimately successful effort to wrest the U.S. Senate seat away from incumbent Mark Pryor. Sanders left Tsamoutales Strategies in June 2015, and she and her husband subsequently founded Second Street Strategies, an all-purpose political consulting firm, in February 2016. The new venture sought to work with national Republican political campaigns and campaigns for federal office in Arkansas.
In May 2015, she became the campaign manager for her father’s second foray into presidential politics. However, in the crowded field from which Trump would ultimately emerge as the nominee, Mike Huckabee was never able to gain traction, and he withdrew after a dismal showing in Iowa.
Later that spring, Sanders signed on as a senior advisor to Missouri gubernatorial candidate John Brunner. But that effort proved short-lived when Brunner finished second in the August primary. Subsequently, she became involved in the Trump presidential campaign. While Sanders had been a senior advisor to the campaign since her father’s withdrawal in February, that role had for the most part been little more than periodic appearances as a surrogate for the candidate. But believing that she was underutilized, the campaign sought to add her to the communications staff, where she handled communication for various coalitions like religious and military groups while still sometimes serving in a surrogate capacity.
With Trump’s presidential victory came a chance to join the administration, and on January 19, 2017, Sanders was named the deputy White House press secretary. In a communication and press operation beset by controversy and turmoil, she was called upon to step in and do the traditional briefings on a number of occasions. On July 21, 2017, the briefings became her responsibility alone when newly appointed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci appointed her the White House press secretary to replace Sean Spicer.
Sanders’s almost two-year-long tenure as press secretary for Trump was beset by controversy. As the spokesperson for a chief executive who lied frequently and regularly attacked the press, terming their reporting “fake news” while also calling them the “enemy of the people,” she was constantly under fire from July 2017 to June 2019.
One noteworthy aspect of her time as press secretary was the decreasing frequency with which she held the traditional daily press briefing. During her tenure, the White House set three records for the most days between formal press briefings: a forty-one-day stretch ended in January 2019, a forty-two-day stretch ended in March of that year, and when Sanders left in June 2019, the White House was in the midst of a streak that had gone on for ninety-four days.
Among the many controversies that shadowed her time as press secretary included her statement that she had heard from countless members of the FBI who were grateful for the president’s firing of James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), an assertion refuted by subsequent emails showing dismay at the firing among many high-ranking bureau officials. She was also ridiculed for asserting, “I can definitively say the president is not a liar, and I think it’s frankly insulting that question would be asked.” There were also other controversies on issues ranging from the numerous allegations of sexual assault by Trump to the circumstances surrounding the resignation of White House staffer Rob Porter over allegations of domestic abuse. She refused to contradict Trump on his assertion that the media was the “enemy of the people.” Finally, the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller released in spring of 2019 stated that she had admitted to lying to the press. A devoted defender of the president and his administration, when she left the White House at the end of June 2019, it was with the gratitude of Trump, who was already urging her to run for governor.
Sanders insisted that her decision to step down as press secretary was a product of concerns about her family, noting that the pressures of working in Washington DC, and especially the White House, did not mesh well with a family with three children under eight years old. After leaving the White House, Sanders became a commentator at Fox News, and the memoir of her time at the White House, Speaking for Myself: Faith, Freedom, and the Fight of Our Lives inside the Trump White House, was published in September 2020.
Sanders also began laying the groundwork for her inaugural entry into the political arena as a candidate. On January 25, 2021, she announced her candidacy for governor of Arkansas, joining a field for the 2022 contest that, at that time, already included Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. But with the backing of Trump, she quickly emerged as the front-runner, and Griffin and Rutledge later shifted their candidacies toward other offices. On May 24, 2022, she won the Republican primary election to become the official party candidate for governor. Running against Democrat Chris Jones, she was elected governor on November 8, 2022.
For additional information:
Booker, Brakkton. “Sarah Huckabee Sanders Announces Run for Arkansas Governor.” NPR, January 25, 2021. https://www.npr.org/2021/01/25/960313559/sarah-huckabee-sanders-announces-run-for-arkansas-governor (accessed November 17, 2021).
Demillo, Andrew. “Sanders Exiting as White House Press Chief, Heading Home.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 14, 2019, p. 1A, 6A.
———. “Sanders Has Familiarity with Arkansas Politics.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 16, 2019, p. 6B.
Fogey, Quint. “Sarah Huckabee Sanders Announces Bid for Arkansas Governor.” Politico, January 25, 2021. https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/25/sarah-huckabee-sanders-arkansas-governor-campaign-462095 (accessed November 17, 2021).
Lockwood, Frank E. “President Urges Her to Run for Governor.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 14, 2019, pp. 1A, 6A.
———. “Sarah Huckabee Sanders.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 15, 2017, pp. 1D, 5D–6D.
Patterson, Blake. “When Sarah Sanders and the ACLU Teamed up for Voting Rights.” ProPublica, August 15, 2018. https://www.propublica.org/article/sarah-sanders-and-the-aclu-teamed-up-for-voting-rights (accessed November 17, 2021).
Sanders, Sarah Huckabee. Speaking for Myself: Faith, Freedom, and the Fight of Our Lives inside the Trump White House. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2020.
“Sarah Huckabee Sanders.” Ballotpedia. https://ballotpedia.org/Sarah_Huckabee_Sanders (accessed November 17, 2021).
Sarah Huckabee Sanders for Governor. https://www.sarahforgovernor.com/ (accessed November 17, 2021).
Williams, Paige. “Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s Battering Ram.” New Yorker, September 24, 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/09/24/sarah-huckabee-sanders-trumps-battering-ram (accessed November 17, 2021).
William H. Pruden III
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