Former Arkansas governor and Blue Mountain Beach resident says new White House press secretary is 'tough, seasoned and smart'
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee likes to joke that he always hoped there would be a Huckabee in the White House some day.
“I just thought it would be me,” the two-time presidential candidate quipped. “Instead, it’s my daughter.”
President Donald Trump named Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Huckabee's youngest child and only daughter, as the new White House press secretary on Friday following the resignation of Sean Spicer. The move didn’t exactly shock her proud parents, who make their home in Blue Mountain Beach in South Walton County.
“We heard the same rumors others were hearing, but didn’t know anything until it was official,” Huckabee said in an email from Copenhagen, Denmark, where he and his wife, Janet, were visiting on Monday. “Sarah does a good job of not telling even her parents something unless it’s public.”
That’s not to say that Sanders isn’t close to her parents. In fact, she has worked on both of her father’s presidential campaigns.
“Sarah is more like her dad than anybody else in the family,” former Huckabee adviser Curtis Coleman told Newsweek. “She has a sanguine personality ... a ready smile and is one of those people who starts out liking you. You kind of have to prove to Sarah she can’t like you, because she’ll start out liking you.”
The 34-year-old mother of three joined the Trump campaign as an adviser shortly after Huckabee ended his presidential bid in February 2016. After Trump’s election, she was appointed deputy White House press secretary.
Sanders’ involvement in politics was a natural extension of her upbringing, Huckabee said.
“When most 9-year-olds were jumping rope, she was sitting at the kitchen table listening to people like Dick Morris (a Republican strategist) explain poll results and plan TV ads,” he said.
He believes that experience has prepared Sanders for the rough and tumble world of Washington.
“She has literally grown up in the glass house/pressure cooker of public office,” Huckabee added. “And in Arkansas, it was a very tough environment for a GOP candidate/official.”
Sanders is taking over the press secretary role at a moment when the White House is embattled by the investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. Huckabee isn’t concerned.
“She can handle it,” he said. “She is tough, seasoned, and smart. Her detractors will likely underestimate her, and that will be their undoing. The toughest part of her job is the incredible bias the press operates with and their outright disdain of this president.”
In addition to Trump’s and her father’s campaigns, Sanders managed Arkansas Republican John Boozman’s successful 2010 campaign for senator, and worked on former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 presidential campaign. In 2014, she advised Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton.
Huckabee doesn’t know if Sanders’ fascination with politics will lead to a campaign of her own someday.
“I’m not sure she will run for office, but she might,” he said. “She’d be great at it if she did, but she has always been the kind of person who focuses on the job at hand and doesn’t waste her time or energy on speculation on future jobs. She’s been taught to do the best she can where she is, and that is the best preparation for something else.”
While she might not be interested in elected office, Sanders’ high profile has already drawn the attention of actress Aidy Bryant, who portrayed Sanders on "Saturday Night Live" last season. When asked who he thinks should play his daughter on the program, Huckabee gave a response in keeping with a proud father.
“There’s no one out there smart enough to do it!” he said. “Seriously, I’m sure Sarah would rather not be the newsmaker. Her loyalty is to the president, and she never wants to get in the way of the real story of how there are very positive things happening under this president.”
Although Sanders and her family relocated to Washington after Trump was elected, Huckabee said she enjoys visiting the Emerald Coast.
“She and her husband and kids love it,” he said. “Her husband especially would love to live here. They have visited often, although when they come in August it will be the first time since she took the White House job.
"They love 30A. I hope they will live here someday.”