Whatever Happened To Sarah Huckabee Sanders

A lot can be said about Donald Trump's only term as president of the United States. The twice-impeached leader of the free world was one of the most controversial public figures of recent memory, and his rise from reality television fame to the Oval Office was one unpredictable string of circumstances after another. When he first descended the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his bid for the 2016 race, few seemed to take him seriously — one by one, his Republican opponents dropped like flies until one man was standing. The rest, as we know it, is history.

One such early opponent of Trump's was Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas. Throwing his hat in the ring alongside Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and a litany of other Republican lawmakers, Huckabee's short-lived team was spear-headed by his daughter, campaign strategist, and political media mind Sarah Huckabee Sanders. When the governor's time in the primary ended, Sarah was out of a job and assuredly looking for the next move — Trump swooped her up in two seconds.

Famously serving as White House press secretary after Sean Spicer, Sarah dominated the press podium and sparred with reporters as she did so. Holding very few press briefings — but making a political scene every time she did so — Sarah certainly seemed to be the Republican party's darling. So what's happened to her since she left the White House? Quite a lot, as it turns out.

Sarah rose to new heights of fame as press secretary under Donald Trump

To say that Donald Trump's time as president — both as a candidate and then as a holder of the office — was controversial is a serious understatement. A cursory search on the internet brings up a number of his choice words, acts, and enemies that all collectively built his political brand, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders was with him every step of the way, no matter the issue (via Pew Research Center). Replacing Sean Spicer in July 2017, Sarah held the job for about two years, which is a pretty good shelf life for a press secretary — though, as noted by the BBC, she famously held few press briefings and was seen as "combative" when she did engage with members of the print, digital, and broadcast media.

When Trump announced that Sarah would be leaving her role in 2019, he did so in an uncharacteristically kind way — famously firing members of his administration in Twitter posts, Trump called his second press secretary a "warrior," despite her questionable credibility and proven fact errors made while in her post.

As the BBC noted, Sarah was not only known for her jabs at journalists but she was also viewed as a "loyal mouthpiece" who went as far as saying that God "wanted Donald Trump to become president." When Trump announced she was leaving her position, he called her "a special person, a very, very fine woman."

Fox News swept Sarah up after she left the White House

Sarah Huckabee Sanders had a tumultuous relationship with the White House press corps during her time as press secretary. However, she ultimately left her position in the West Wing to join the conservative broadcast network FOX News. Many press secretaries have joined digital and broadcast media outlets after their time in the White House ends — MSNBC swooped up Jen Psaki of the Biden administration after her stint in the position came to an end — and Sarah Huckabee Sanders was certainly no exception. In the official press release made available at the time, FOX announced that Sarah would be coming to the network as a contributor, providing "political commentary and analysis across all of FOX News Media, including FOX News Channel (FNC), FOX Business Network (FBN), FOX News Digital, FOX Nation and the radio/podcast division." The network also detailed her debut date — September 6, 2019 — on the popular show "Fox & Friends."

"FOX News has been the number one news organization in the country for 17 years running and I am beyond proud to join their incredible stable of on-air contributors in providing political insights and analysis," Sarah said at the time. FOX further noted Sarah's qualifications for the job, noting that she was the "third woman and first mom" to ever serve as White House press secretary.

Sarah landed in hot water after the 2019 presidential election

Known for not only sparring with journalists but standing by purported half-truths and fabrications, Sarah never evaded opinion and made her thoughts known while on the job. Such tendencies came into play during the 2020 presidential campaign when her former boss and former Vice President Joe Biden went head to head in the general election.

During one of the many Democratic presidential primaries, Biden took to the stage and made his case for the job — stuttering on occasion, Biden's well-documented speech impediment hindered him on occasion. Taking to social media at the time, Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not hold back her thoughts on the debate, seemingly targeting Biden's stutter as she did so.

"I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I hhhave absolutely no idea what Biden is talking about. #DemDebate," she wrote in a since-deleted tweet, as noted by Politico. Quickly receiving backlash for the message, Sarah clarified her comments. "To be clear [I] was not trying to make fun of anyone with a speech impediment," she said in a follow-up tweet. "Simply pointing out I can't follow much of anything Biden is talking about." In an uncharacterized clap back, Biden acknowledged Sarah's perceived stab. "I've worked my whole life to overcome a stutter. And it's my great honor to mentor kids who have experienced the same. It's called empathy. Look it up."

The former press secretary turned her attention to state office

Not all of Donald Trump's press secretaries were built the same way – Stephanie Grisham held not a single daily press conference while on the job (via The Washington Post), Kayleigh McEnany had a prominent role in the January 6 probe, and Sean Spicer competed on "Dancing With the Stars" (via ABC News). Certainly a colorful bunch, and as for Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she turned her attention to political office. Reportedly encouraged by Trump himself to take the plunge, Sanders announced that she would be running for governor of Arkansas in the November 2022 election. As noted by CNN, Sanders was not only a well-known political figure — as White House press secretaries are often the most visible members of the administration aside from the president — but she had deep roots in Arkansas politics. Her father, Mike Huckabee, was governor himself, and Sanders was his political dynamite daughter — it almost seemed fated.

"She sort of grew up in front of everyone in Arkansas. Then as the spokesman for President Trump," Arkansas Republican strategist Bill Vickery told CNN of the press secretary turned FOX News contributor. "The vast majority of Arkansas voters, who are Republican, saw what they felt like was a significant mistreatment of her from the national press corps, and pop culture figures — they saw her withstand that."

Sarah addressed the January 6 riots in a campaign video

January 6, 2021, is a day that will live in infamy in United States history. A swarm of radical members of the political right stormed the Capitol after hearing Donald Trump and several key lawyers and figures speak, breaching the home of Congress and threatening the lives of policymakers, Capitol police, and more. The event was too large for any candidate to ignore, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders addressed the riot — sort of — in her campaign announcement video. As noted by the Independent, Sanders noted that "our freedom and the rule of law are under attack" before targeting the "radical left" and its attempt — in her perspective — to "impose government control and censorship from the top-down." Nowhere in the video did Sanders address Trump and his role on the day.

Further turning her attention toward "socialism" and "cancel culture," Sanders claimed that it was the left that would "further divide" the nation.

"Everything we love about America is at stake and with the radical left in control of Washington, your governor is your last line of defense," she said. "Our state needs a leader with the courage to do what's right, not what's politically correct or convenient."

The former press secretary came under attack amid the January 6 fallout

To say that January 6, 2021, changed the course of the United States is an understatement. The attack and its subsequent fallout resulted in the second impeachment of Donald Trump, a House committee and thorough investigation into the day in question, and damning calls to action to the Justice Department regarding Trump and his role (via Time). As noted by NPR, the full report from the committee included recommendations to the department and Attorney General Merrick Garland to slap Trump with criminal charges, encouraging Congress to bar Trump from ever holding public office again while doing so. 

In the immediate aftermath of January 6, Trump was the main target of ire, but his press secretaries, too, got the blunt end of the public opinion stick. Randall Lane, the chief content officer and editor of Forbes, was just one vocal critic of Sanders and the role she played — inadvertently — on January 6, perpetuating Trump's falsehoods while in office and standing by him.

"Such lies-upon-lies, repeated frequently and fervently, provided the kindling, the spark, the gasoline," Lane wrote the day after the insurrection in a damning column for Forbes. "It's been especially painful to watch President Trump's press secretaries debase themselves. ... Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied at scale, from smearing those who accused Trump of sexual harassment to conjuring jobs statistics. Her successor, Stephanie Grisham, over a year, never even held a press conference."

Donald Trump threw his support behind Sarah's political aspirations

Despite existing at the center of the January 6 probe and a litany of lawsuits, Donald Trump has tried to maintain political power and threw support behind Sarah Huckabee Sanders when she announced her bid for Arkansas' governor. After she announced her campaign on Twitter, the twice-impeached president endorsed her, noting that Sanders was "strong on borders, tough on crime, and fully supports the Second Amendment and our great law enforcement officers," as noted by NBC News. Concluding his support, Trump said that his former press secretary had his "complete and total endorsement."

NBC News further noted at the time that Trump — while his political influence has declined since he left office — enjoyed quite a bit of success in Sanders' home state of Arkansas, giving his endorsement a significant amount of leverage. He held the state in 2016, winning almost 61% of the vote as opposed to Hillary Clinton's 35%, and maintained a relatively similar voter turnout in 2020 — Trump took 62% of the vote, whereas Joe Biden brought in roughly 34%. The 2020 election marked the seventh presidential election in which Arkansas saw an improved Republican voter turnout, proving that the GOP had — and still has — a strong grasp on the state. Given Sanders' history as the former governor's daughter, her role as press secretary and FOX News stint, and Trump's endorsement, it seemed like a slam dunk for her from day one.

The gubernatorial candidate ran on a controversial platform

Amid the campaigns leading up to the midterm elections, issues and stances once seen as fringe became mainstream, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders was one such candidate that embraced aggressive campaign platforms and made her stance on the issues known, regardless of the severity. As noted by The Hill, one such issue given a centralized position in the Sanders campaign was the pandemic. Despite the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Sanders announced — and stood by — her stance that she would not impose any COVID-19 vaccine requirements or mask mandates in the state of Arkansas if she won the election. She made the vow during an appearance on "Fox & Friends," saying in response to reinstated COVID-19 restrictions, "If I'm elected governor here in Arkansas, we will not have mask mandates."

"We will not have mandates on the vaccine, we will not shut down churches and schools and other large gatherings because we believe in personal freedom and responsibility," she said. "It's one of the key cornerstones, frankly, of our country."

Sanders' campaign for governor additionally received attention when her legitimacy to run in the gubernatorial race was questioned. As stated by Samuel Steele McLelland and James R. Baxter of the University of Arkansas Law School, Arkansas' constitution requires that a gubernatorial candidate live in the state for "seven consecutive years, immediately preceding taking office." The questions didn't land, however, and Sanders maintained her campaign.

The candidate underwent surgery after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer

Here's a lesser-known aspect of Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her gubernatorial run in the state of Arkansas — she had to take a break from the campaign trail after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer. As noted by AP News, Sanders received the medical news and underwent surgery to remove the cancerous area. She discovered her condition after undergoing a biopsy in August 2022 and had the surgery a month later in an Arkansas hospital.

"Today, I underwent a successful surgery to remove my thyroid and surrounding lymph nodes and by the grace of God I am now cancer-free," the gubernatorial candidate said in a statement by her campaign staff. "I want to thank the Arkansas doctors and nurses for their world-class care, as well as my family and friends for their love, prayers, and support."

In classic politician form, the former press secretary noted in her statement that she was eager to get back out on the campaign trail, as it had been six days since she underwent the surgery that she had made a public stop on her way to the governor's office. Judd Deere, Sanders' spokesperson, maintained that the FOX News contributor had "several meetings at the campaign office" and participated in two fundraising events the day before her surgery.

Sarah was elected governor of Arkansas in 2022

Sarah Huckabee Sanders won the Arkansas gubernatorial race in November 2022, making her the state governor. As noted by CNN on election night, Sanders became the first woman ever to be elected to the governor's office in the state, beating Democrat Chris Jones — a nonprofit leader and minister — handily. Sanders took about 63% of the vote as opposed to Jones' 35%, not only assuming the office but securing the Republican Party's hold on the state. CNN noted, in a similar vein, that the last time Arkansas had a Democratic governor was back in 2010 — 12 years later, Arkansas is a Republican stronghold.

Of course, Sanders joined her father, Mike Huckabee, and his legacy as an Arkansas politician. She was a recognizable figure in the state and became the first daughter in United States history to serve in the same gubernatorial position as her father — no matter what you think of her politics, that is an impressive accomplishment.

"This election is about taking Arkansas to the top," Sanders said as she accepted the governor's office, notably excluding Donald Trump — who had since come under an increasingly glaring legal spotlight — from her speech. "I know that Arkansas can be first, and I'm committed to being the leader who takes us there."

Sarah could be a presidential contender in 2024

As noted by the NBC/FOX Fayetteville, Arkansas, affiliate station, Sarah Huckabee Sanders won't assume the office of Arkansas' governorship until January 10, 2023, but she is already being seen as a 2024 hopeful, especially in the vice presidential realm. Her experience as both a White House figure and now a holder of political office makes her an obvious candidate, and her presence as a prominent woman in politics marks an aspect of identity politics that could be attractive to more moderate voters.

"I think she'll be a VP option in 2024," Roby Brock, the host of "Capitol View," said of Sanders' political future. "On the strength of the fact that she's got some national brand already from her time in the White House, the fact that she will have accomplished something in the next two years as governor, particularly with the legislative session coming up and she's just a well-known commodity and she's from the south, that may help out."

Noting that her more recent speeches as of late targeted "the middle ground," Brock continued, "She really talked about representing people, even those who didn't vote for her."