When it came time for Donald Trump to bomb Syria a second time, the president actively sought the counsel of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his White House press secretary and chief spinmeister.
“What does Sarah think?” became a common refrain from President Trump on a whole host of political, messaging, strategic, and even foreign policy considerations, according to two people with direct knowledge. On Thursday, Trump announced she would be departing his West Wing toward the end of June and “going home to the Great State of Arkansas.” He and Sanders did not initially specify her next steps, or who would fill the inevitable power vacuum.
By the end of her more than two-year run in the president’s inner circle, she’d become much more than just his principal spokesperson or press handler. But to her critics, she exits the White House much as she entered it in early 2017: as one of his most prolific and shameless spinners, liars, enablers, and loyalists.
It is unclear what her next career move will be, or who exactly will roll out the welcome mat. Asked on Thursday by a small group of reporters at the White House if she is weighing a run for governor of Arkansas, the outgoing press secretary replied, “I learned a long time ago never to rule anything out.”
Her options, however, might be limited.
Sanders’s odds of landing a cushy cable TV job could be dim. Her uneasy, at times publicly contentious, relationship with reporters and brass at major cable news networks (besides Fox) has limited her post-White House television opportunities, a common route for former prominent figures in administrations or on presidential campaigns.
A CNN source told The Daily Beast that the network would not hire her, and an MSNBC source said the chances of the network hiring her were essentially zero (an MSNBC spokesperson declined to comment). Cable news insiders said that, as was true with many former Trump officials, Sanders’s most promising bet would be to seek a similar job at Fox News, where her father, Mike Huckabee, is a former host and frequent on-air contributor.
The uncertainty Sanders faces mirrors the realities of many of her one-time Trump administration cohorts once they left the mothership. In late 2017, her predecessor, Sean Spicer, ultimately wasn’t able to secure a lucrative TV or commentator gig, but has since landed gigs as an America First senior adviser and a “special correspondent” for the television show Extra. Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s infamously short-lived comms director, lasted less than two weeks on the job, and returned to the business world and launched the “Scaramucci Post”—which turned into little more than a harshly mocked Twitter account.
Many leave this administration, which has been prone to chronic backbiting, power struggles, and aggressive leaking, with various knives in their backs. Sanders, however, leaves Trumpworld having secured the respect and protection of most of her soon-to-be former colleagues, including those with reservations about her. She also leaves having been the punchline for comedians, and the subject of intense scorn for liberals and activists.
She did not respond to a request for an interview for this story.
Last year, Sanders made headlines for robustly defending the Trump administration’s brutal and unpopular policy of separating migrant children from their families at the southern border. It was, among other things, a public relations low-point for Trump, his senior staff, and Sanders herself. Not long after that briefing, she was kicked out of the Red Hen, a small restaurant in the Virginia city of Lexington, by one of its owners. The owner subsequently told The Washington Post that she did so because her staff, outraged by Sanders’s support for what they viewed as Trump’s cruelest policies on migrants and transgender citizens, wanted Sanders gone.
At the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the comedian and dinner host Michelle Wolf famously dinged Sanders’s “lies” and her makeup as she sat silently at the head table.
“I have to say I’m a little star-struck,” Wolf said, as Sanders sat nearby, visibly unamused. “I love you as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Later, Sanders fired back at Wolf.
“I hope that [Wolf] can find some of the same happiness that we all have, because I think she may need a little bit more of that in her life because the rest of us here are doing great,” Sanders responded at the time.
Still, her soon-to-be former White House colleagues, even those who have had problems with her, have tried to paint a different, more sympathetic portrait of Trump’s most committed mouthpiece.
When asked for a memory of their time working with Sanders, one of her former White House colleagues—one who said they'd had their professional issues with her—mentioned that one instance came to mind. In the aftermath of the Parkland school massacre, President Trump hosted a listening session that featured family members of victims of school shootings. This former White House official recalled walking in on Sanders away from the cameras, comforting a grief-stricken family.
“I remember in the East Wing, Sarah consoling one of the families who were grieving because they lost their kid,” the ex-Trump official told The Daily Beast. “Just a raw moment that, despite whatever issues I had with her, made me see her in a different light.”