Commentary: Sarah Huckabee Sanders is going to be one tough act to follow
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Seven words we’ll never say again without tacking on the prefix “Former.” Her reign ended Friday. Or perhaps it was a week ago, or maybe back in April?
It’s anyone’s guess, since Sanders hasn’t held a “daily” press briefing in more than three months. Her absence at the podium broke the previous record, also set by her. We may never have known that President Trump’s human firewall was still in the building, let alone leaving her post for good, had it not been for the official announcement of her departure.
“After 3 1/2 years, our wonderful Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be leaving the White House at the end of the month and going home to the Great State of Arkansas,” tweeted Trump, who’s occupied the Oval Office for 2 ½ years. “She is a very special person with extraordinary talents, who has done an incredible job! …”
Former ABC newsman Sam Donaldson defined “special” in another way when he described Sanders as the most dishonest press secretary in more than half a century. “She deserves a lifetime achievement Oscar for lying,” he said.
The comment must have cut deep … for poor Sean Spicer. Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas Gov. and Fox host Mike Huckabee, ran circles around her short-tenured predecessor, doling out Trump’s whoppers as methodically as a Burger King drive-through, never breaking a sweat, no matter how hot the order.
Through it all, she exuded levels of conviction most folks can’t muster even when they’re telling the truth.
The skilled Sanders was the perfect extension of the administration she served — contentious, blunt speaking, patronizing and loaded with contempt for the facts and the press itself.
It was surprising at first when she called the press corps questions “ridiculous” and “disgraceful,” but it became the norm.
She maintained that Trump tripled African American employment, doing more for the community in a year and a half than President Obama did over two terms, without stammering over her fish tale as Spicer might have. She said Trump did not make a $130,000 hush-money payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, except that he did. She misstated facts (that’s putting it graciously) when she said that immigrants who come to the U.S. through the diversity lottery are not vetted.
And as if YouTube, Google and video were never invented, Sanders denied the president ever promoted or encouraged violence, insisted that “multiple news outlets” had reported that Obama had ordered Trump’s phones tapped in 2016, and asserted that Trump “believes in making sure that information is accurate before pushing it out as fact …”
There’s not enough room here to list it all. Suffice to say that if all her falsehoods were spun into a TV series — “Facts Be Damned” is an impressive, must-see work of political fiction that stuns and terrifies! — there’d be enough material to fuel 10 seasons.
Her dismiss-and-disarm methodology was equally extraordinary. It was surprising at first when she called the press corps questions “ridiculous” and “disgraceful,” but it became the norm. Over the course of her tenure, she also implied that the media were self-serving attention seekers, anti-Semites, un-American, dangerous, stupid, lazy and, above all, wasting her time.
“Saturday Night Live” comedy double Aidy Bryant is one of the few performers who was able to satirize the unflappable Sanders’ divert-and-demean strategy.
In a sketch set in the White House briefing room, a “reporter” asked “Sanders” about Chief of Staff John Kelly’s assertions that the Civil War could have been avoided through compromise.
“Look,” she smirked, “history is a bottle of moments filled with time and horses and the invention of the telephone. OK, if you don’t like that, you gotta take it up with Father Time.”
Can you at least acknowledge how offensive those comments are for some?
Sanders, however, was not an easy target for late night satirists. Compared to “Spicey,” who was a gift-wrapped godsend to Melissa McCarthy and countless other comedians, lampooning Sanders was fraught. Stand-up comedian Michelle Wolf learned that the hard way when she went after her in 2018 at the White House correspondents’ dinner.
Wolf was lambasted for attacking the press secretary’s physical appearance after she said in her routine: “I think [Sanders] is very resourceful. She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”
Sanders was just the third woman to hold the post, which should have been a cause for celebration, but it didn’t exactly turn out that way. One fresh perspective she brought to the job was defending Trump’s record with women — and calling his accusers’ claims of sexual assault and misconduct false without knowing much more than their names.
Then came her support of separating children from their mothers and locking them in cages at the border, when she brushed it off like it was old news. Laws that allowed for the separation of parents and children at the border “have been on the books for over a decade,” she said. There are no such laws that require separation.
I “walk out the gates of the White House” with “my head held high,” she wrote in a swan song via Twitter, the preferred briefing room of an administration that mutes its detractors. One of the latter replied anyway with a “Game of Thrones” GIF from Queen Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame through the scowling crowds she once ruled over: “Shame. Shame. Shame.”
Sanders, who’s reportedly discussed running for governor in Arkansas, is a hard act to follow. Backed by Trump, she severed a time-honored relationship between the White House and the press, leaving a dusty lectern — and a low bar — to her replacement, Stephanie Grisham.
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