WASHINGTON - Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who parlayed her high-profile job as president Donald Trump’s White House press secretary into her own political career as Arkansas’ first female governor, will deliver the Republican response after President Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday night.
The selection of Sanders as the face of the Republican Party on what is one of the most significant political events of the year signals the GOP’s continued embrace of Trump. For nearly two years, Sanders was Trump’s chief spokesperson, sparring with reporters over his policies and rhetoric. She also acknowledged having provided false information in his defense.
The politician selected to give the partisan rebuttal to the State of the Union is seen as a rising star in the party. In choosing Sanders, who at 40 is the youngest governor in America, Republicans are indicating that her brand of confrontational cultural conservatism represents the future of their party - and that deep ties to Trump are not viewed as a detriment even as the party has signaled a desire to move past him.
“I am grateful for this opportunity to address the nation and contrast the GOP’s optimistic vision for the future against the failures of President Biden and the Democrats,” Sanders said in a statement last week. “We are ready to begin a new chapter in the story of America - to be written by a new generation of leaders ready to defend our freedom against the radical left and expand access to quality education, jobs, and opportunity for all.”
As the new governor of a deeply red state that Trump won in 2020 with 62 percent of the vote, Sanders fired up culture wars on her first day by signing executive orders to ban the term “Latinx” from state documents and to forbid the teaching of critical race theory in schools, though there’s no evidence that the academic discipline was being taught in Arkansas public schools.
“Today I will also sign an executive order preventing the political indoctrination of Arkansas’s schoolchildren,” Sanders, a mother of three young children, said during her inauguration speech. “As long as I am governor, our schools will focus on the skills our children need to get ahead in the modern world - not brainwashing our children with a left-wing political agenda.”
Sanders has followed in the footsteps of her father, Mike Huckabee, a staunch conservative long before the Trump era. When she announced her run for governor, she immediately rose to front-runner status on her family name and her ties to Trump.
Trump publicly backed Sanders’s run for governor, and she has remained an unapologetic ally of the former president, although she never fully embraced his baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. During the Republican gubernatorial primary last year, Sanders suggested, without evidence, that there was fraud, but did not go so far as to say it cost Trump the election.
“We know there is fraud in every election. How far and wide it went, I don’t think that will be something that will be ever determined,” she told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “I do think that the country would be infinitely better off if Donald Trump was the president right now, and I think anything we can to do as we go into the next election cycle to strengthen our election process and provide greater election integrity is something we should be striving for.”
GOP congressional leaders framed Sanders’s address as hearing from a new generation, juxtaposing the millennial against 80-year-old Biden.
“While President Biden keeps repeating old mistakes and failing Americans, a rising generation of Republican Governors are fighting for families, advancing new solutions, and winning. Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the youngest Governor in the nation and a powerful advocate for the popular, commonsense conservative principles that will put our country back on a better course,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a statement last week.
In 2021, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina delivered the response to Biden and before that, Nikki Haley, then governor of South Carolina, gave the GOP rebuttal after President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address in 2016. Both Scott and Haley have signaled interest in running for president in 2024 against Trump, who has already declared himself a candidate.