For years it's seemed like something of a foregone conclusion that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the smokey-eyed, truth-averse former White House press secretary, would eventually make a run for some sort of elected office. Well, the wait is over. The time has come. The widely expected has become the deeply predictable.
On Monday, Sanders officially announced the launch of her campaign to become the next governor Arkansas. Frankly, I think we should all commend Sarah for the bravery it takes to strike out on her own, and try to make a name for herself by running for a position her father Mike Huckabee held just 14 years earlier.
Over the course of a nearly eight-minute long campaign video, Sanders hit all the major MAGA talking points she herself had a hand in crafting during her time as former President Donald Trump's most public spokesperson: faux-humble military jingoism; complaints about the "radical left," including equating last summer's social justice protests with the violent Trump-incited insurrection at the Capitol building on Jan. 6; name-dropping "socialism" and "cancel culture"; and the definitely sincere and credible concern about Democrats' divisive politics.
Truthfully (ha!) Sanders's campaign doesn't seem all that innovative or groundbreaking in and of itself; if anything, it plays as a focus-grouped goulash of GOP bugbears and Trumpist/MAGA talking points. What's interesting, however, is the degree to which Sanders has conspicuously tied her political future to Trump himself (he first appears just seven seconds into her video introduction) even as his popularity plummets across the country. This, ultimately, gets to the single most contentious debate happening within the Republican Party today: What happens to Trumpism when Trump is gone? Will those who want to paint Trump as an aberration, rather than an inevitable outcome, succeed in putting that cursed genie back in its bottle? Or will, as Sanders is betting, the legacy of Trump be what carries the day for the GOP moving forward?
In part, Sanders's push to become the second Huckabee to occupy the Arkansas governor's mansion in less than two decades is also part of a larger question of if and how Trump loyalists will be rehabilitated into broader society after their time spent ushering in a wave of uniquely American fascism. (The short answer, of course, is that they absolutely shouldn't be, but inevitably will.) In that sense, Sanders offers an interesting case study: Perhaps no one from the Trump administration is more inextricably associated with the former president's most odious policies in the public zeitgeist than Sanders is. For years, she served as the public face sent to defend the travel ban on Muslim-majority countries, family separation, and other similarly awful efforts. As the first ex-Trumper to announce a run for office after her political benefactor has left The White House, she will be something of a canary in the coal mine for other Trump associates considering their next steps without the backing of the current president.
But Sanders's case is unique in so much as she is also entering a race where she has considerable family name recognition as well as a state-wide political network. As such, a Sanders win could be as much a victory of circumstance as it would be a result of shrewd political triangulation vis-a-vis Trump himself.
Which is all to say, there's nearly two years to go before voters head to the polls in Arkansas. A lot can — and likely will — change before then. But Sanders's campaign could very well be a sign of things to come, not just for her home state, but for the rest of the country as well.