Will Sarah Huckabee Sanders be the next Governor of Arkansas? It’s a question that has been asked since she left the Trump White House less than six months ago and moved back to her home state.
There is no job opening until 2023 for the office but it is easy to see why speculation continues. Sanders is living her best life in Little Rock, Arkansas. She and her husband Brian bought a house in Little Rock’s wealthiest neighborhood. The house includes an in-house television studio for her appearances on Fox News Channel, where she is a paid contributor. She travels the country giving paid speeches and doing corporate consulting work. Sanders has a book deal for a memoir that will come out before the 2020 election.
The divisive nature of American politics rears its ugly head as talk turns to a potential gubernatorial run for Sanders. “I don’t’ like being called a liar,” she told the New York Times, which is the very criticism lobbed against her from her critics – Democrats and their cohorts in the media. One example of criticism frequently brought up by her critics against Sanders is when she told reporters in a White House press briefing that members of the F.B.I. no longer had confidence in James Comey. It seems like a long time ago but it’s fresh in the memories of her opponents.
Ms. Sanders’s relationship with reporters reached a nadir in April after it was revealed that she had admitted under oath to investigators working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, that her claim at a press briefing that “countless members of the F.B.I.” told her they had lost confidence in the bureau’s director, James B. Comey, was a “slip of the tongue” that was not based on any facts.
She presided over punishing Jim Acosta of CNN by suspending his White House access. She phased out the daily press briefings that in recent history have been the main way presidents answer to the public. Her legacy would be “defending the indefensible and not being truthful with the American people,” David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama and a CNN contributor, once said.
In stark contrast, during the annual Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner in Hot Springs, where Sanders delivered the keynote speech, supporters voiced approval of her honesty about the press.
“The main thing I like about her is her honesty,” said Carla Shelton, a small-business owner who brought her daughter to hear Ms. Sanders speak. “She got a bad rap because people are offended that she does tell the truth. I’m 100 percent behind her.”
Sanders predicts that President Trump will win re-election and is helping in that effort. She donated a MAGA hat signed by Vice-President Pence for the Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner auction. It went for $750. She mentioned two standard topics in any Republican political speech – guns, and abortion. The crowd loved her. Why wouldn’t they support her? She is one of them.
I think she will run. Though I like Sarah and wrote about her when she served as the White House Press Secretary, I’m not big on political offices turning into a legacy. Her father served as Governor of Arkansas and Sarah is the beneficiary of instant name recognition. She was a loyal supporter of Mike Huckabee and also helped on his presidential campaign in the 2016 presidential election cycle, which is how she connected with then-candidate Trump. Children of politicians often go into public service themselves, yet the results aren’t always great. It becomes a matter of entitlement, which American voters shy away from. Political office isn’t supposed to be the family business for any family. She says she is being “pushed” into running.
“It’s the role I’ve been pushed into,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to do that if I wasn’t the right person to fit what the state needed at that time.”
While Ms. Sanders is not ready to officially announce anything yet, she is very clearly thinking about it. “Would you vote for me if you lived in Arkansas?” Ms. Sanders puckishly asked a reporter. She did not wait for an answer. “I’ll put you down as a yes.”
She’s never held elected political office. That’s no longer seen as a detriment after the 2016 election of Trump and she may do well. As an Arkansas native and someone who grew up in the governor’s mansion, she would know the right people to put together a team. Her husband is a Republican consultant. She sees benefits to both Trump’s re-election and Trump’s defeat in 2020. She’s confident.
Ms. Sanders plans to help with campaign events for Mr. Trump through next year. But she said the results of the 2020 election would not have much bearing on her own political future. “If he wins, there’s a solid base and people will come in and be helpful,” she says. “If he loses, people will be angry and they will want to rally around Trump people.”
Ms. Sanders projected confidence, too. Is there a non-Trump lane that wins in Arkansas? “Not that wins in a Republican primary,” she said. Is there anyone who can claim that mantle better than her? “I don’t think you can.”
Her husband says she will have to make a decision by Labor Day of 2021 – an eternity from now in politics. He’s confident she has a constituency of more than Trump voters. She’d also have the evangelical vote because of Mike Huckabee and women voters. Meanwhile, she’s sure acting like she’s planning a run. We’ll see what happens.