Sarah Huckabee Sanders — a pugnacious Arkansas native from a political family — took to the podium as the new White House press secretary Friday, stepping into perhaps the most difficult job in the world: speaking for Donald Trump.
Born in a town called Hope — also the birthplace of Bill Clinton — Sanders brings to the crucible of the James Brady Briefing Room a southern drawl and sardonic wit.
At just 34-years-old she is already a wily political veteran.
She got a front row seat to a major political campaign in her early teens, when her father Mike Huckabee ran a successful campaign to be governor of their home state.
In 2008 presidential campaign she helped her dad win a solid victory the Iowa caucuses, only for his campaign to falter as the race went on.
In 2016, Sanders struck out on her own, supporting Minnesota conservative Tim Pawlenty as a senior political adviser, before joining Trump’s campaign as Pawlenty faltered.
Despite that out-of-family experience, the influence of her Baptist pastor father is everywhere to be seen.
Most notably she shares her father’s ability to strip-back topics to the bare bones and bring them to life with a pithy down-at-home turn of phrase.
“If the president walked across the Potomac, the media would be reporting that he could not swim,” she recently remarked, leaning on an old joke of President Lyndon Johnson’s.
She’s equally likely to disarm questioners by challenging their premise, by lobbing a stinging barb or talk about one of her three children — who are all under six — or reference her faith.
“I’ve been asked before when it comes to role models — as a person of faith, I think we all have one perfect role model,” she recently said.
“When I’m asked that question I point to God, I point to my faith, and that’s where I would tell my kids to look.”
The task in front of her now is enormous. Replacing Sean Spicer — perhaps the most scrutinized and discredited press secretary in modern memory.
And she has to speak for this most unpredictable, unorthodox, undisciplined and mercurial of presidents.
She does not step into the role cold however.
For months she has been the de facto press secretary as the lampooned Spicer receded out of the limelight.
She has marshaled press conferences most days for the last month, although mostly off camera.
Immediately, her most difficult task may be surviving as a principal actor in Trump’s viper-pit White House and finding a decent division of labor with new communications director Anthony Scaramucci.
Traditionally communications directors have played a more off-camera role, plotting policy rollouts, crafting the message, and making sure the departments are singing from the same hymn sheet.
But her first visit to the podium as press secretary saw Scaramucci take center stage, boasting about his close ties to the president, fielding dozens of questions and winning plaudits for performance that is not ostensibly his job.
Scaramucci’s taste for the limelight — he has been a staple on television for years — could easily lead to a situation where there are effectively two press secretaries and no one seeing the bigger picture.
For now Sanders is enjoying a honeymoon period, receiving congratulations even from across the political aisle.
“Congratulations to @SarahHuckabee. We may disagree on policy, but always great to see a hard working woman rise to be public WH face,” said Barack Obama’s former commutations director Jen Psaki.
But as Sean Spicer learned to his cost, as press secretary, the honeymoon can be all too short lived.
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