ANALYSIS | Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ voice cracked Thursday afternoon as she described her reasons for giving up her White House press secretary gig.
“I feel like it’s important for the president to be able to put somebody in place as he moves into the campaign season,” Sanders said in an impromptu gaggle in her office, also saying she wants to spend time with her three young kids.
“It’s truly been the opportunity of a lifetime and one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make,” she said, several times glancing at her desk and composing herself.
The tougher the questions got, the more emotional Sanders became. On both the easiest and hardest moments, she started to answer before her voice quivered and she said it would take more reflection to come up with one or two of each. Her legacy will include her fierce defenses of President Donald Trump and his often-hardline policies, false statements, and the end — for now, at least — of daily press briefings.
She sidestepped those tough questions — and ones about the president’s urging her to run for governor in her native Arkansas — but hundreds, maybe thousands, of questions that were never asked or answered during her tenure will greet her successor. Here are a handful of possible replacements.
J. Hogan Gidley
Now Sanders’ top deputy, she promoted him into the job when Raj Shah left the White House for a private-sector communications firm. But unlike Shah, Gidley has never led a formal briefing in the James A. Brady Briefing room. Shah was regarded by many White House press corps members as a better briefer than Sanders.
If Trump is looking for a quick hire before he leaves for a G20 summit in Asia later this month, Gidley could be his best bet. At the Trump White House, politics comes first, second and third — and that could make the man known around the press bullpen simply as “Hogan” a dark horse to receive a second “battlefield promotion.”
His appearances on Fox News, which the president watches frequently, have allowed him to tee off on all sorts of Trump critics, from congressional Democrats to that party’s 2020 candidates to current and former Justice Department officials and beyond. Gidley led the media shops for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s 2016 presidential campaign, among others.
On Thursday, he waved reporters off questions about his interest in taking over Sanders’ office in a few weeks, telling them to “relax.” But Gidley never definitively said he’s not interested in becoming Trump’s third press secretary. At a minimum, however, the Asia trip could delay Trump’s interview process, leaving Gidley as acting press secretary.
Soon to exit his post as assistant secretary for public affairs, Sayegh has been considered before to join the White House’s communications shop, which has been without a communications director since the president removed former Fox News executive Bill Shine in February.
Speaking of Fox, was a contributor on both Fox News and Fox Business before taking the Treasury job.
“If we were able to get Democrats to support it, we could have made this permanent. But they did not. They obstructed,” he told Fox Business in December 2017. “And therefore, we’re at a position now we’re going to continue to fight and make all of these tax cuts permanent in the future.”
Obstructed. Fight. If that sounds familiar, it should. The president regularly blasts Democrats for, in his view, “obstructing” his whims. And Trump describes himself a few times a week as determined to “fight back” against Democrats, the media, Iranian leaders, and anyone else who gets in his way.
Among only a handful of 2016 campaign staffers still with Trump — the list also includes counselor Kellyanne Conway and domestic policy adviser Stephen Miller — Grisham has grown close to First Lady Melania Trump. She is her communications director and press secretary, a job she took after starting in the White House communications office.
Her work with the president’s still-media-shy spouse has gotten Trump’s attention.
“Stephanie is terrific,” he said during a 50-minute Fox News interview Friday morning. “We have a lot of people to choose from.”
Grisham is well respected by the press corps and considered to have done a solid job helping bring a reluctant first lady into the national and global spotlight. But Melania Trump has had a few fashion gaffes that dominated cable news, ones that might have been avoided if staff had been more attentive or thorough. Still, the president had a chance to rule her out but chose to keep her name in the race.
It was inevitable. “The Mooch” is back in Washington scuttlebutt.
His 11-day run as White House communications director back in 2017 was derailed by his profanity-laden conversation with a New Yorker reporter, which went viral and the president called “unacceptable.” Reporters and others who reviewed the communications plan he presented to Trump before getting that job say it was impressive and might have helped the former reality television host and New York real estate executive stay on message — or closer to on message.
But when pressed Friday morning on “Fox & Friends,” Trump offered a response that was sprinkled with presidential chuckles.
“Well, I like Anthony and he’s been very nice and all, but I think he should stay where he is right now,” Trump said. “But Anthony really is a good guy, Stephanie is terrific. We have a lot of great people, we have a lot of good people to choose from.”
John Barron (a.k.a. Donald Trump)
Remember, Trump has never formally held interviews to replace Shine.
He chose to call into both CNBC and Fox News morning shows this week. The president once mused that much of modern-day politics plays out on cable television, and he admittedly watches all morning and throughout the day. Aides, however, have tried to peel him away from the tube and have admitted frustration in private conversations about his insistence on doing lengthy call-in segments like the one Friday morning.
A joke around the White House is Trump is Trump’s own communications director, and that no one could be effective trying to manage his messaging since he would prefer do that job himself — as he did during his business career, when voice recordings appear to show he would phone New York reporters with Trump dish posing as a fictional publicist named “John Barron.”
One White House official on Thursday repeatedly referred to the boss as “the decider,” and Sanders said it will be up to Trump who replaces her and how he decides on that person.