The first thing a college-aged Sarah Huckabee ever said to me, as I recall, was “you hate my family.”
I told her that of course I didn’t. I explained that I disagreed politically with her dad — though not always, because he could be moderate some days. I explained that I occasionally made fun of her parents because I was a smart-aleck for a living, though one with a heart of gold.
She didn’t appear to buy all that, but she seemed to appreciate the banter. We got along adequately as years went by.
Nearly 20 years later, she told me I was no special challenge as a verbal sparring partner. She said I ought to spend Thanksgiving with the Huckabees if I wanted to experience getting a little better than you’re giving around the dining table.
Quips are easier days later in the newspaper than on the spot, which may have been her point, one perhaps only moderately contemptuous of what media critics do.
Her dad often said ill-advised things on an impromptu basis. And I would assail him days later after easy and safe contemplation. I think his beloved little girl was saying I ought to try playing the game in real time, engaging in the battle rather than waiting on the sideline to come along after the fighting — as the saying goes — to shoot the wounded.
The young woman is now the world-famous Sarah Huckabee Sanders, spokesman for President Trump. Two of my most frequent personal interactions lately are to deflect shock and/or vitriol from liberal friends because I still admit to admiring her, and to answer questions from national media persons working on profile articles on her who are trying to understand why she is the way she is and how she can lie for Trump.
I have a theory. I have referred to parts of it in this space before. But I thought I’d put it all together for today, since I’ve been propounding it elsewhere and regular readers ought to get the opportunity to consider it in full.
It’s that Sarah was coming of age as a politically minded teenager as her hero/dad was governor. It’s that her mom and dad were, at that time, revealing resentments based on economic class and political elitism. These also were resentments grounded in the Clintonism that both preceded and over-shadowed them.
The Huckabees thought better-off people of liberal philosophy and Clinton allegiance looked down on them as lesser, as rubes, as religiously narrow, as unworthy, as people who bought Velveeta by the vat and would take down a period-perfect wall sconce to string up a vase of plastic flowers.
Some of those Governor’s Mansion preservationist neighbors, in their elegantly restored homes, could seem a little snobby to folks up from Hope by way of Baptist churches in Pine Bluff and Texarkana.
The Huckabees, believing themselves godly and populist, thought criticisms of them came from ungodly and elitist people, and that the ungodly elitist people had voice-volume in the media all out of proportion to their numbers.
The Huckabees were astounded by the hypocrisy: They got seen by Clinton-admirers as Mansion-unworthy. Yet all they did was eat Velveeta and mis-prune azaleas. It was Bill Clinton who treated the place like a rent-by-the-hour motel room.
Sarah carried that formative experience into Washington and service to a man who — like her dad — says ill-advised things and is looked down on by Hillary Clinton devotees, insider snobs and media people who are fancier versions of that smart-aleck back in Arkansas.
Is she lying, exactly, when Trump tells her to tell the press he didn’t dictate that statement on the Russian meeting in Trump Tower when, as it turns out, he did?
I think she looks out at the White House press corps as it badgers her on that point and thinks: What a roomful of hypocrites. Bill Clinton stood right out there and said he didn’t have sex with Monica Lewinsky in that office right over there, and all of you are pretending to be aghast that I told you something that my boss told me to tell you that turned out not to be so.
The Southern Baptist essence in which the Huckabees are thoroughly rooted is that we are all sinners saved only by the grace of God. It’s a theology that can provide a kind of built-in excuse or rationale for misbehavior — her dad’s, Trump’s, her own.
Friends of hers say Sanders has no illusions about the challenges Trump presents her, and can’t run this gantlet much longer, because no one could. But they say she believes she is doing important work for a president getting good things done. I suspect she’d like to hang on until the midterm, then go make real money, like dad.
I don’t believe she has lost her soul to Trumpism. I think she has applied her Arkansas-grown shoulder chip in service to it.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.