June 14, 2019 – Last June, CBS News reported that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, and Raj Shah, her deputy, were planning to quit the Trump administration. They stuck it out longer than expected. Shah left in January. Yesterday—exactly a year after the original CBS report—we learned that Sanders will depart at the end of this month. President Trump tweeted the news and Sanders did the same: a mode of communication that has characterized Sanders’s time as White House spokesperson.
Sanders took over as press secretary in July 2017, following the ouster of Sean Spicer. Sanders showed more endurance, but her performance has been no better than Spicer’s was. In her two inglorious years on the job, Sanders barred reporters who asked tough questions; promoted Trump’s bogus “fake news awards”; fell in line with the president’s anti-press, “enemy of the people” rhetoric; and routinely disparaged the intelligence and integrity of the journalists in the White House briefing room. She also lied a lot. Sanders said that Trump never encouraged violence (he did) and that he won an “overwhelming majority” of votes in 2016 (he did not). In April, the Mueller report confirmed that in May 2017, Sanders (who was then the deputy press secretary) knowingly misled reporters when she claimed—twice—that “countless” FBI staffers supported Trump’s firing of James Comey. Sanders told Mueller’s office that the claim was “not founded on anything”; it was a “slip of the tongue” that she then repeated “in the heat of the moment,” she said. How did Sanders respond to her confession becoming public? She reiterated the false claim.
Still, Sanders may not be remembered for her lies as much as her absence. “Last month, reporters noticed that there was literally a coating of dust on the press briefing room podium,” CNN’s Brian Stelter wrote last night. “That is Sanders’s legacy.” On her watch, the televised White House briefing, a fixture under previous administrations, has all but gone extinct. Earlier this year, Sanders set a record for the longest time without a formal briefing since the practice began. Then she beat her own record—twice. If she doesn’t brief soon, next Wednesday will mark 100 days since Sanders last faced reporters at the podium. (She did stand there in late April, but it was only for a “bring your kids to work day” stunt that she declared off the record.) In the absence of briefings, White House reporters have had to chase Sanders down on the White House driveway to ask questions, usually following her interviews with Fox News.
Fox could be a logical next step for Sanders: ex-administration figures often take contributor gigs on cable news, and Sanders has already said that she plans to remain “one of the most outspoken and loyal supporters of the president and his agenda” outside the White House. (CNN reportedly has no interest in Sanders; it’s hard to imagine MSNBC would want her, either.) Trump, in his tweet, encouraged Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas, a post previously occupied by her father, Mike Huckabee; according to CNN, Sanders is thinking seriously about a bid, though there won’t be a vacancy until 2022.
As far as the White House press secretary job is concerned, CNN’s Stelter writes that who replaces Sanders is anyone’s guess. Trump could promote her deputy, Hogan Gidley, or he could look to an outside booster such as Laura Ingraham. (Stranger things have happened: remember Anthony Scaramucci?) The president, who has gone without a communications chief since March, may decline to fill the post. Why would he need a press secretary, when he believes himself to be his own best messenger?