Sarah Huckabee Sanders is not hiding behind the bushes.
On one of the bigger news days of President Donald Trump’s fledgling administration, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was absent due to his “previously scheduled” Naval Reserve duty.
So it was Sanders, the 34-year-old deputy press secretary, who found herself behind the briefing room lectern on Wednesday, fielding questions about the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 campaign.
Like the Trump administration’s chief spokesman, Sanders suffered a few blunders during what was only her second White House briefing — her first just five days prior — but her calm, cool and collected approach to rapid-fire questioning stood in stark contrast to that of Spicer’s own brash mannerisms.
But Sanders isn’t a soft pushover, and she can hold her own — as evidenced by her approach to Thursday’s briefing. Sanders often sighed and lamented that she had to repeat herself, answering reporters’ questions regarding Comey’s firing with, “I think I’ve already answered this.”
Sanders’ approach to handling the press is due to years of political upbringing, her father told Fox News in an interview. And for those who might not recognize her face, Sanders’ maiden name, Huckabee, is a dead giveaway for just what kind of political upbringing that was.
The daughter of former two-time Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sanders grew up in politics in a way that many kids don’t, Huckabee said.
“I always say that when most kids are 7 or 8 years old out jumping rope, she was sitting at the kitchen table listening to [political commentators] analyze poll results,” he said.
Sanders was consistently ingrained in her father’s own political aspirations, serving as his field director for his 2002 gubernatorial reelection campaign and national political director during his 2008 presidential bid. In 2016, she ran his presidential campaign.
But it was growing up in the Arkansas governor’s mansion as a young teenager that prepared Sanders for her current role as deputy press secretary, Huckabee said.
Huckabee became governor in the summer of 1996 as the then-Democratic Gov. Jim Guy Tucker was convicted of fraud. Huckabee describes the transition and the media during that time as “hostile” and “brutal” as the legislature was the “most lopsided in the country” — worse than that of Massachusetts or Maine, he said. At the time, Huckabee said, Sanders was in junior high school.
“[Sanders] saw how utterly unfair and petty the press can be for even simple things,” Huckabee said. “So having grown up with that, I think people don’t understand — it’s not just that she presents a sort of sense of being beyond it; she really is. She’s seen it her whole life.”
But Huckabee also credits his daughter’s poise behind the briefing room podium to another familial matter — growing up with two older brothers.
“She grew up pretty doggone tough. She had to, as a matter of survival,” Huckabee said. “She’s got a very sweet heart, but she’s tough, and she can handle herself. She’s had to take all kinds of gruff from her brothers, so she’s pretty fearless.”
Huckabee added that as his youngest child — and his only daughter at that — Sanders was at time spoiled by her parents. But even still, the Huckabees sought to instill a spirit of hard work in all the children, he said.
“She’s always been raised to tell the truth, take responsibility for her own actions, to work hard for what she wants in life. Even as teenagers, when they went to things like church camp, we wouldn’t pay their tuition,” he said. “We told them that they needed to work in the cafeteria or snack bar to cover their costs — not because it was absolutely necessary, but because we wanted them to understand and appreciate that everything costs something.”
Road to the White House
Huckabee describes his daughter as the type who was always ambitious. Like him, Sanders attended Ouachita Baptist University, a private liberal arts school in southwest Arkansas where she was student body president.
Following college, Sanders took a job at the Department of Education under the Bush administration, according to a 2007 profile in Time.
Sanders’ resume includes a bevy of GOP campaigns: working on former President George W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004, acting as a senior advisor to Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton’s Senate bid and managing other Arkansas Sen. John Boozman’s bid for Senate.
Outside of campaigning, Sanders worked as a national campaign manager for Bono’s ONE Campaign, the grassroots advocacy organization aimed at ending poverty.
She also cofounded the political consulting firm in Little Rock, Second Street Strategies, which her husband is also involved with.
In 2010, Sanders was named to Time’s 40 Under 40 list along with longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, civil rights leader Ben Jealous and Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich.
But it was after Huckabee’s withdrawal from the Republican-heavy field of presidential candidates in February 2016 when Sanders was tapped by the Trump campaign as a senior advisor and eventual on-air surrogate.
— Bryan Sanders (@sanders_bryan) January 20, 2017
— Fox News (@FoxNews) May 12, 2017