Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s Battering Ram

What does the press secretary believe in—other than defending the President’s every word?

The other Arkansas senator, John Boozman, also hired Sanders, and he told me that she was adept at turning complex policy material “into words that people can understand without falling asleep.” These words were often pointed—Sanders whittled political messages into shivs.
.. Sanders staged a blistering counterattack. Within hours, Boozman had declared that Lincoln, in a “preposterous” and “shameful” move, had framed him as an “advocate for rapists’ rights.” Patrick Creamer, Boozman’s longtime flack, told me, “Sarah had a keen understanding that you can’t let someone else tell your story. She knows the other side is going to paint you in the worst light, and that you have to dictate the terms.”
.. Some of the campaigns she worked on were accused of stoking fears about immigrants. Cotton, speaking at a town hall in 2014, declared, falsely, that “groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico,” and warned, “They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas.”
..  Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, who, as a teen-ager, wrote in a Baptist newspaper that the “Christian youth of today are searching for real answers to real problems presented in a blunt manner.”
.. Yet for some Republicans he wasn’t conservative enough. As governor, he created a health-care program for children, and favored legislation allowing high-achieving immigrants, regardless of their legal status, to apply for a state-funded college scholarship. But, whereas Democrats attributed crime and poverty to inequality and to educational failures, Huckabee blamed “the selfish decision to ignore God’s standards of integrity.”
.. Huckabee has said that, while other kids were watching cartoons or jumping rope, his daughter was learning about cross-tabulation tables—a method for breaking down polling data.
.. Dick Morris, who worked on Huckabee’s campaign for lieutenant governor, once recalled, “Sarah would listen intently, and I found myself sometimes briefing her as much as Mike.” Sanders has said, “I wanted to be in the middle of the heart of it all.”

.. he avoided the divisive tone of a Phyllis Schlafly, saying that if voters wanted a leader with a “mean spirit” he wasn’t “their guy.” Huckabee won Iowa, but his campaign sputtered, and, when John McCain won the nomination instead, evangelical voters embraced the angry nationalism of his Vice-Presidential choiceSarah Palin.

.. Huckabee began commuting to New York City, where he hosted a show on Fox News. His rhetoric grew bitter. He declared that citizens who put “faith and family first” were “American outcasts,” and wrote that “city slickers who are more afraid of guns than of the criminals who might use them have a serious mental condition.”

.. By the time he ran for President again, in 2016, with Sanders as his campaign manager, he’d adopted what one reporter described to me as a “dark populism—all ‘us versus them.’ ” But another candidate—Donald Trump—went even darker, and dominated the race. Huckabee dropped out... When Trump asked Huckabee for an endorsement, Huckabee instead suggested that he enlist his daughter.

.. Trump needed a stronger link to evangelicals and women, and Sanders was happy to provide one. Despite the differences in their family backgrounds—Mike and Janet Huckabee grew up poor; Trump didn’t—the candidate felt familiar to her. Huckabee was an economic populist; Trump claimed to be one, too. Huckabee had campaigned on a promise to “restore America’s greatness”; Trump’s slogan was “Make America Great Again.” Huckabee wanted to ban abortion; Trump had vowed to appoint pro-life advocates to the bench. Like Huckabee, Trump enjoyed ad-libbing while giving speeches.

.. Sanders relished the idea of helping an outsider like Trump defeat the people she viewed as the ultimate Washington insiders: the Clintons. She appreciated Hillary Clinton for advancing the cause of female candidates, but loathed her politics.

.. “She has shown her utter contempt for anyone that doesn’t support her and doesn’t think like her, and I think that’s a really scary thing to have in a President,” Sanders said

.. Sanders had also shown an uncanny ability to adopt the voice of the person she was representing: Boozman was gentlemanly and never ranted, and so she had modulated her tone in public appearances. With Trump, she would need a more bombastic approach.

.. She spoke with confidence and didn’t suppress her strong Arkansas accent. After watching her TV clips, Trump sometimes told aides, “Give me Sarah’s number, I want to call her,” because he found her “amazing” on camera. An observer close to Sanders told me, “If you’re not on TV, you don’t really exist as far as Trump is concerned.”

..  “The things that keep most of the moms—myself included—that I’ve talked to up at night are: Who’s gonna change America? Who’s gonna make it safer? Who’s gonna create jobs? Who’s gonna make education better? Who’s gonna make life better for my kids?”

.. she told the host of a North Carolina radio program that Trump offered the strongest “pro-life position that any Republican nominee has given in my lifetime.” She called it “a pivotal moment” that “should give every Christian and every evangelical, every Catholic, reason to support Donald Trump and reason to vote for him, because that is the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.”

.. He made endless gaffes, such as calling Nazi concentration camps “Holocaust centers.”

.. Sanders had little mastery of policy, but Trump considered her frank, and a proxy for Christian voters.

.. Sanders’s surprise ascendance meant that a campaign operative, not a media-relations professional, was in place as press secretary as the President engaged in ever more outlandish behavior, including embracing leaders of authoritarian regimes and repeatedly calling journalists “the enemy of the people.” A publicist tends to describe even controversial events in bland, soft language; an operative is skilled at provoking outrage.

.. A press secretary who had an abiding respect for First Amendment freedoms likely would have resigned once it became clear that Trump intended to steamroll his way through the Constitution. But Sanders stayed, even after Trump praised Vladimir Putin and condemned his own federal intelligence agencies; even after he publicly considered handing over Michael McFaul, the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, to Putin’s regime for “interviewing”

.. deploying such Trumpian keywords as “pathetic” and “coward.”

.. Another reporter said that, under Trump, no press secretary can say anything “even somewhat nuanced,” and must constantly “praise the boss as a spotless king.”

.. Perhaps Sanders’s greatest asset at the podium is her embodiment of the Trump voter. The supposedly populist President is tremendously wealthy, as are many top Administration figures: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Betsy DeVos, Wilbur Ross, Steve Mnuchin, and Kellyanne Conway.

.. Sanders’s briefings offer repeated confirmation to Trump’s base that the U.S. government is being run by Christians standing up to condescending Beltway insiders. In a characteristic flourish, Sanders defended immigrant-family separations by noting that “it is very Biblical to enforce the law.”

.. In the Obama Administration, press briefings happened almost daily, and regularly exceeded an hour. Sanders’s have become sporadic and typically last about twenty minutes.

.. According to the Washington Post, Sanders “manufactures urgency”—exuding a righteous impatience that simultaneously limits her exposure to difficult questions and makes her appear determined to keep reporters in their place.

.. In previous Administrations, most press briefings were low-key affairs in which journalists downloaded policy details; reporters were allowed many follow-ups, and sometimes asked dozens of them. Sanders grumbles if someone asks more than two questions.

.. in her first year, she spent less time informing the public than Spicer had done in half that time.

.. When C-span asked Sanders why her briefings were so short, she said, “I don’t think I take as long to get to the point.”

.. Reporters complain that Sanders’s briefings almost never involve substantive disclosures. Instead, she deflects questions and returns to the same talking points: “stock market, at an all-time high”; “isis, on the run.”

.. A White House reporter told me, “I’ve never learned a single thing in that briefing room that’s been helpful to me. It’s the part of my job that I dread most. You’re either being spun or gaslit.”

.. in the Trump era, live briefings have devolved into an “entertainment product.” More and more, Sanders presents a televised reënactment of Trump’s Twitter feed.

.. Sanders has repeatedly said that she doesn’t lie when at the podium. But many of her public statements have later proved false: Trump did know about his lawyer Michael Cohen’s payoffs to various women; Trump did know in the summer of 2016 about a meeting that his son Don, Jr., had with a Russian lawyer offering “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. (Sanders says that, at the time, she believed these statements to be true.)

.. She has insisted that “the President doesn’t support violence against anyone,” even though Trump once told his supporters at a rally to “knock the crap” out of protesters.

.. She reiterates Trump’s characterization of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference as a “hoax.” She has denounced legitimate questions from reporters as “disgraceful,” “inappropriate,” “pretty ridiculous,” and “completely ridiculous.” After reporters asked John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, to clarify a statement, she said that it was “highly inappropriate” to question the word of a four-star Marine general.

.. In Sanders, he has found an eager pugilist.

.. Sanders prefers short, tough interviews to “soft,” one-on-one encounters in which she might drop her guard and say something that she will regret.

.. In public, she tends to handle reporters with the sort of eye-rolling derision that Fox News’ Tucker Carlson levies against liberal guests.

.. Despite her complaints about rude reporters, Sanders might not actually be hoping for more decorousness from the press corps. The campaign strategist in her surely realizes that heated exchanges generally work to Trump’s advantage. The more aggressive the press’s questions, the more loudly the President cries “fake news,” and the more tenaciously his base supports him. It’s also been good for Sanders’s job security: the more ferociously she responds to the media in public, the more Trump admires her.

.. “She has said things that aren’t true from the podium, and she, at times, has deflected my questions in a way that was misleading. But I’ve never caught her in a lie, one on one, where she told me that X didn’t happen and I found out later that it did.” The reporter added, “You sit in Sarah’s office and she can be remarkably decent and charming, and then she can be obfuscating and ridiculous at the podium. Both of those things are true at the same time.”

.. Brian Karem, the executive editor of Sentinel Newspapers, told me that, at the podium, Sanders “deflects when she doesn’t need to.” He said, “Because of her inexperience, and because she’s a true believer, she sees things that aren’t there. She anticipates traps that don’t exist. She’s creating more of a mess than she’s cleaning up.”

.. “For all of Sarah’s rhetoric, I don’t think she says half of what Trump wants her to say. And the way she treats the press is probably not even a third as bad as others in the White House would like us to be treated. In some ways, I see her as a force pushing back on some of the worst tendencies in the President.”

.. At one point, Shine told Sanders that she should say, “If you don’t think the economy’s doing well, ask LeBron James how he’s doing under President Trump.” Sanders declined, saying, “I’ve got enough problems without bringing LeBron into it.”

.. A month later, Trump posted a tweet insulting James’s intelligence.

.. In 1992, the year that Mike Huckabee lost his first run for public office, Bill Clinton was elected President. Jim Guy Tucker, a Democrat and the lieutenant governor, became Arkansas’s governor, and, in a special election, Huckabee won Tucker’s vacated seat. At the time, the legislature was eighty-six per cent Democratic.

.. The state capitol was so hostile toward Republicans that Huckabee arrived to find that some Democrats had nailed his office door shut.

.. In May, 1996, Tucker was convicted of fraud and conspiracy; he announced that he would resign, making Huckabee the governor.

.. Sanders had just finished eighth grade. The Huckabees had been living in Texarkana, where Sarah had made the cheerleading squad and the basketball team, and she didn’t want to move.

.. Huckabee later said that people told him, “You don’t have enough class to be in the governor’s mansion.” For Sanders, it was a preview of some of the establishment sneering that accompanied Trump’s arrival in Washington.

.. Janet found it awkward to be shadowed by state troopers. She’d tease them by announcing, “I’m fixing to go to Victoria’s Secrets. Who wants to go?” She told me, “I’d do it for meanness. I didn’t no more want to go to Victoria’s Secrets than a hill of beans.”

.. Sanders was given Chelsea Clinton’s former bedroom, overlooking the back yard.

.. Local residents and journalists mocked the Huckabees as rubes.

.. Mike’s fondness for Velveeta; Janet was criticized for chewing gum during a TV appearance, and for having the azaleas trimmed too soon

.. The Huckabees complained about the ribbing, but they also exploited it.

.. During a renovation of the mansion, the family, though they could have rented a house or stayed in a hotel, lived in a donated triple-wide, on the grounds. “We are gonna get pounded from all sides from doing this,” Janet warned Mike, but added that their gambit would probably “go national.” She was right: Jay Leno featured the Huckabees and their triple-wide on his show, joking that Arkansas voters might accuse them of putting on airs.

.. more difficult is the fact that her boss continually acts in ways that require her to make excuses for him.
.. Even the nimblest press secretary would have difficulty finessing the statements of a President who has declared that an African-American member of Congress has a “low I.Q.,” mocked a disabled reporter, bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy,” called Democrats who don’t clap for him “treasonous,” and ordered Iran’s President, via Twitter, to stop speaking “demented words of violence & death... she gave me what has become a pat rationalization of many American evangelicals.

“I’m not going to my office expecting it to be my church,” she answered. “Frankly, if people of faith don’t get involved in the dirty process, then you’re missing the entire point of what we’re called to do. You’re not called to go into the places where everyone already thinks like you and is a believer—you have to go onto a stage where they’re not.” She went on, “You have to take that message into the darkest places, and the dirtiest places, and the most tainted and dysfunctional places. If you can influence even one person, that’s what you’re supposed to do.”

.. I said a lot of Americans feel that the person who needs the most help is Trump..

“We all need help,” she said. “That’s the whole basis of Christianity. No one is perfect. We are all sinners.” I asked her if she considered Trump racist. She said no.

.. Watching Sanders at the podium, it is difficult to discern her personal feelings about the most inflammatory aspects of Trump’s agenda—she likes to say that it is her job to “state policy, not make policy.” She has never betrayed disappointment in the President’s personal behavior or offensive remarks. After the white-supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump was broadly condemned for insisting that there had been “blame” on all sides. When Sanders addressed those remarks, she echoed his equivocation: “The President’s been very outspoken in his condemnation of racism and bigotry and hate of all forms.”

.. Inscrutability is her goal, even on important matters. When asked if she accepts that global warming is caused by human activity, she declined to comment. (This was on a day that the Administration was preparing for the landfall of Hurricane Florence.)

.. She has a few tics and tells, though. When she’s in spin mode, she overuses the word “certainly.” At one point, Sanders told me that she considers Mack McLarty, Bill Clinton’s former White House chief of staff, “a true statesman” and a “really good guy.” Did she consider Trump a statesman and a good guy? “I definitely think he’s a good person,” she said. She named kindnesses that Trump has privately shown others, then said, “There’s certainly a lot of goodness in him.”

.. “She will recognize, ‘Fuck, the way Trump woke up and tweeted those seven things this morning is gonna make my day a lot harder.’ She’s not gonna, with a straight face, try to tell you, ‘It was savvy P.R. to order Sessions this morning to end the Mueller investigation.’ She’s also not gonna go out and criticize Trump, not even in an anonymous quote.”

.. Chelsea Handler referred to her as a “harlot” in “summer whore lipstick,” later noting, “When someone lies to the American public every single day, I rule out the normal rules of not making fun of someone’s appearance.”

.. “How does it feel to be so good at your job—considering that you lie for a living?”

.. Sarah and Bryan Sanders have a daughter, Scarlett, who is in elementary school, and two sons: Huck, four, and George, three. Sanders returned to work soon after having each child.

.. They live in northern Virginia, in a house with six bedrooms, one of which is occupied by a Colombian au pair. (Sanders’s kids have picked up some Spanish.)

.. A White House reporter told me, “Sarah’s a drinker, and she can be profane—and I don’t say that as an insult.” Sanders, the reporter added, was “more sophisticated than people think.”

.. Sanders said that she ignores online comments about her, but Rhodes said that she reads them, noting that many “disgusting” Facebook posts are written by mothers.

..  “I pray your children never see what you wrote, because this is bullying at its best, which is parenting at its worst.”

.. Nelson, his former communications director, told guests, “Just think how life changes—he’s not even the best-known person in his own family!” Someone had recently given Huckabee a T-shirt that read “sarah’s dad.”

.. Huckabee, who recently said on Fox News that the President is correct when he “talks about journalists being enemy of the people,” has begun to mimic Trump’s insinuating tone. After Netflix announced a deal with the Obamas, he tweeted, “It’s the ‘Circle of Life’ in American politics! Simba and Mufasa are singing it now to celebrate! The first video they will produce will be ‘The Lyin’ King.’ ” He defended ice policies by asking, “Where is outrage over permanent separation of a child and mother when the baby is ripped apart in the mother’s womb by knives of abortionists?” He tweeted a photo of tattooed Latinos making gangster signs, calling the men Representative Nancy Pelosi’s “campaign committee for the take back of the House.”

.. In public, Sanders sometimes uses phrases that can also be found in her father’s books, blog posts, TV clips, and tweets; she has called opponents unhappy people, and declared that their criticisms say more about them than her. Huckabee has said that he prefers “Walmart Republicans, not Wall Street Republicans”; Sanders has joked that she’s “more Sam’s Club than Costco.”

.. On June 28th, in Annapolis, a man with a pump-action shotgun opened fire at the offices of the Capital Gazette, killing five people. The man, Jarrod W. Ramos, was charged with first-degree murder; he’d been enraged by the newspaper’s coverage of his criminal online harassment of a woman.

No deadlier event had taken place in an American newsroom, yet Trump declined to lower the flag at the White House and at other federal buildings. The mayor of Annapolis had requested that he do so, but it took five days before the President relented. When the mayor finally received a call from the White House, it was from Sanders.

.. When journalists have told Sanders that Trump’s incendiary words might lead to their colleagues being murdered, she has refused to acknowledge this as a legitimate concern; instead, she has flipped the question and focussed on herself

noting that she has been likewise subjected to threats. Whatever friendliness she maintains with reporters offstage, she has publicly backed up Trump’s animus toward journalists.

.. Acosta pointed out that Sanders still hadn’t admitted that the press isn’t the enemy of the people. He told her, “We all get put in the meat grinder in this town.”


Acosta pointed out that Sanders still hadn’t admitted that the press isn’t the enemy of the people. He told her, “We all get put in the meat grinder in this town.”