For nearly two years, Sarah Huckabee Sanders served as the voice of the Trump administration. On Tuesday night, the now-Arkansas governor will serve as the voice of the entire Republican Party, giving its official response to President Biden’s State of the Union address.
Sanders, who left her position as White House press secretary in July 2019 and last month was sworn into the same governor’s seat that her father held for more than a decade, finds herself at her highest position yet in a GOP that is at an intersection between Trumpism and potential new leaders.
Several of the potential Republican alternatives to the firebrand former president are, like Sanders, building their resumes in governors’ mansions. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott are just two of the national-name Republicans said to be considering challenging Trump for the 2024 White House nomination.
As the party grapples with its trajectory, Sanders will take a stage that has the potential to catapult politicians to prominence — or see them flop at the opportunity.
The youngest governor in the country, she is still seen as a reliable ally to Trump. She was rewarded for her fierce loyalty to his administration, fending off the media as the Trump team dealt with countless controversies and scandals. Trump offered a resounding endorsement of Sanders in her bid for Arkansas governor.
In her brief tenure as Arkansas governor so far, Sanders has attacked red meat issues such as critical race theory and gender inclusivity. She has been highly critical of the Biden administration but has ducked questions about continuing her support for Trump in 2024.
The choice by Republican leadership to draft Sanders for the State of the Union response could be seen as a safe one: She is both a young politician who says she is ready to articulate the party’s “optimistic vision” and someone not seen as a threat to Trump’s campaign to return to the Oval Office
The State of the Union response is usually delivered by younger figures in the party who are seen as having a rising profile. In 2018 and 2019, Democrats tapped Georgia gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to deliver the responses to Trump’s address.
While for figures such as Abrams and Whitmer the response turned out to be a good stage to garner more name recognition, it has chewed up others.
Then-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) response to President Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address was largely received as a failure. Jindal ran for president in 2016 but garnered little support and dropped out after five months, endorsing Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), another Republican widely mocked for his Obama State of the Union response.
But Sanders will have the opportunity to communicate a vision for a party that is still dealing with the aftermath of the less-than-stellar 2022 midterms.
Delivering the response from Little Rock, Sanders will follow a president who will most likely take a victory lap for Democratic achievements in the past two years and set the tone for a potential reelection campaign.
The speech is a high-water mark in Sanders’s young political career, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has billed it as “must-watch.”
“She is a servant-leader of true determination and conviction,” McCarthy said. “I’m thrilled Sarah will share her extraordinary story and bold vision for a better America on Tuesday. Everyone, including President Biden, should listen carefully.”