Former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders officially declared her candidacy on Monday morning for governor of Arkansas in 2022. Sanders was previously one of many former Trump officials who soon got jobs at Fox News after leaving the administration, and now her candidacy is yet another example of the continued revolving door between Fox News and Republican political campaigns.
According to Media Matters' internal database, Sanders has made at least 114 weekday Fox News appearances since she left her job as White House press secretary — and during that tenure, she still acted very much like an active White House spokesperson: defending former President Donald Trump for being a “fighter” when he remarked that the late Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) was in hell; declaring that she couldn’t “think of anything dumber than allowing Congress” to start wars (though this is one of Congress’ specific powers enumerated in the Constitution); and championing Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic — amid a skyrocketing death toll — by claiming that “he got government out of the way.”
While Fox News has an official policy against its on-air talent participating in political campaigns, as is often the case it was simply not enforced when it came to Sanders’ own prolific appearances at Republican fundraisers.
And so she got to build up her political profile in two ways at once: hitting the hustings for Republican politicians, while courting their voter base on Fox News.
The pipeline: from Fox News to Republican campaigns
Sanders sounded very much like a prospective Republican candidate when she appeared on the November 21 edition of Watters’ World, to speak about the importance for Republicans of winning the two Georgia Senate runoffs in order to “stop some of the craziness and the socialism that ‘the Squad’ is trying to impose around the country.” (Democrats later swept both races, delivering a change of Senate control.)
“I know we don't want that here in Arkansas,” Sanders said, “and I'm pretty sure most of the rest of the country doesn't want what they're selling, either.”
When her run was first discussed Monday morning on Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy recalled: “Remember when she left the White House as press secretary, the president of the United States, Donald Trump then — back when his Twitter was still active — he tweeted, ‘I hope she runs for governor. She would be fantastic.’ And so, today she does.”
Co-host Ainsley Earhardt also chimed in. “She did a great job as press secretary — that’s not an easy job, I thought she did that beautifully,” said Earhardt. “The president [Trump] is a fan of hers, tweeted out how special she was. She knows what the governor's mansion looks like — she grew up there when her dad was governor. And I just wish her all the best, I think it’s wonderful.” (Sanders’ father, former Arkansas governor and two-time presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, is also a Fox News contributor.)
Later in the show, the two co-hosts accidentally let the cat out of the bag about how the whole pipeline from Fox News to political campaigns works — using a temporary sort of plausible deniability even when everybody knows what’s going to happen later on.
Sanders’ biggest Fox News patron: Sean Hannity
While plenty of Fox News hosts have had Sanders on as a contributor, Sean Hannity has easily been the one who was most open about boosting her prospects as a political candidate.
Back on September 8, he asked her if she was considering a run for governor in her home state. (She said she was totally focused on working to reelect Trump as president, before she could make such a decision about herself.) When Sanders appeared on Hannity’s Fox TV show on January 7, he introduced her as “former White House press secretary and Fox News contributor, soon to be governor, Sarah Sanders.”
Sanders’ announcement video even hearkens back to her Fox News roots — and to Hannity, specifically — featuring two brief TV grabs from a Hannity special, one warning of Democrats pushing “Venezuelan-style socialism” and another calling Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) Green New Deal platform the “Green New Disaster.”
Sanders also borrowed another popular theme from Fox News, from the right’s ongoing cultural persecution complex, to frame her campaign announcement.
“Cancel culture” griping remains the right’s biggest appeal
In her announcement video, Sanders proclaimed: “I took on the media, the radical left, and their cancel culture — and I won. As governor, I will be your voice, and never let them silence you.” This may be in part a reference to a famous incident in 2018, when a restaurant in Virginia refused to serve her because of her position in the Trump administration. (Right-wing media voices came to her defense, including Earhardt and other Fox & Friends personalities, and far-right online trolls initiated a harassment campaign against the restaurant.)
And so in a discussion on Fox & Friends this morning, co-host Brian Kilmeade also touted Sanders’ campaign as a victory over “cancel culture.”
“But it also goes to show you, these people that used to work for President Trump that everybody’s trying to cancel? She won't hear of it. ‘Oh, you’re going to try to cancel me? I'm running for governor. You try to cancel me? I'll start my own business.’ So I just think it’s good for her to assert and then take control.”