The Truth About Sarah Huckabee Sanders' Relationship With Donald Trump

For Sarah Huckabee Sanders, defending the president has become an art-form. The Arkansas native picked up the position of White House press secretary when Sean Spicer resigned after months of public ridicule (who was that photo of the inauguration crowd fooling?). Since then, Politico has claimed that Sanders has become a trusted confidante to Donald Trump, whose presidency has been plagued by lawsuits, allegations, and a record amount of staff turnover.

Though Sanders remains at the helm of protecting the president's image, as of this writing, it's clear that the pair haven't always on the same page. According to reports, the mom-of-three has often been misinformed or at odds with Trump, who notoriously dislikes what he perceives as signs of weakness. Sanders also had to learn to temper the president's unpredictable moods, which she navigated with the help of former White House communications director — and alleged Trump staff favorite — Hope Hicks.

Though Sanders cheekily claimed Trump's only flaw was having to deal with press on a daily basis, rumors detailing the press secretary's plans to leave the administration persist. Is it possible that Sanders doesn't always get along with the man she's tasked to defend? This is the truth about Sarah Huckabee Sanders' relationship with Donald Trump.

They're not that close - but he thinks she has a great face

As the mouthpiece for the President of the United States, you'd think that Sarah Huckabee Sanders would have a close, personal relationship with her boss. But despite Trump publicly singing her praises on occasion, he seems to have reserved his top-shelf descriptors for others in his inner circle. In fact, when defending Sanders after she was kicked out of a restaurant, he used the ho-hum phrasing "a fine person" to describe her. That said, it shouldn't be entirely shocking that CNN reports the pair aren't actually very close. Sources familiar with the matter told the publication he "does not have the same personal relationship with [Sanders] that he had with [Hope] Hicks, who he sees as a family member."

Trump affectionately Hicks "Hopester" (a welcome reprieve from the usual onslaught of less desirable nicknames like the possibly anti-Semitic "Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd" or Crooked Hillary). He also allegedly used to excitedly call out for Hicks from the Oval Office. On the other hand, Sanders' communication with the president is reportedly "all business."

Of course, Sanders isn't immune to the odd compliment beyond being dubbed "fine," a word Trump has also used to describe Russian president Vladimir Putin and people attending a demonstration plagued by White nationalists. Trump — who's notoriously concerned with aesthetics, according to Axios — also claimed (per CNN), "She's got a great face. Perfectly round." Snaps for Sarah.

She learned how to question the president from Hope Hicks

Trump doesn't seem like an easy person to challenge. Back on the days of The Apprentice, the former reality TV host made his catchphrase: "You're fired." It's a mantra that appears to have stuck with him throughout his current administration, which NBC News reports has a record turnover. In 2018, former FBI Director James Comey claimed that Trump appeared to "punish people who disagree with him and reward those who praise him." That's a difficult tightrope to walk, and Sanders apparently learned how to adeptly navigate this harsh terrain from none other than Hope Hicks.

According to CNN, Sanders studied how Hicks "picked her battles" with the president. The former communications director would make alternative suggestions if she thought Trump's ideas would cause a lot of backlash. This included helping him reword some pretty scathing tweets (which means that his Twitter feed was actually edited-down provided he heeded Hicks' advice, which wasn't always the case). Sanders and Hicks would also team up to help lead the president down the path of least controversy. When Hicks exited the White House on March 29, 2018, Sanders was left to navigate this territory alone.

Trump wasn't pleased with how she handled the Stormy Daniels situation

It's not every day that a president and a porn star are mentioned in the same breath — at least if you rewind to before the 2016 presidential election. Today, it almost feels like a new normal, one that apparently has a certain set of rules. Sanders may have missed the memo as CNN reports that Trump was upset with the way she handled the Stormy Daniels situation.

Stormy Daniels' allegations outlined an almost cartoonish affair that allegedly involved infidelity, nondisclosure agreements, thug-like threats and Shark Week (who doesn't love Shark Week?). According to NBC News, Trump denied the affair and initially claimed to have no knowledge of the $130,000 payoff Daniels claimed she received in exchange for her silence. (He later admitted to "authorizing" and "reimbursing" the payment, according to NPR.) 

Naturally, Sanders has had to field quite a few questions about the porn star. In March 2018, she claimed the Daniels' case against Trump went to arbitration where it was won "in the president's favor." According to CNN, this was the first time the White House admitted Trump was involved with Daniels in any way, and it served as admission that the nondisclosure agreement existed. Trump was reportedly unhappy with Sanders' statement (though some sources claim those reports are false). Curiously enough, Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti told CBS News that the arbitration victory never even happened.

Settling the score

In June 2018, Sanders was turned away from Red Hen, a farm-to-table restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. In an interview with The Washington Post, restaurant co-owner Stephanie Wilkinson claimed the decision stemmed from the fact that Sanders serviced an "inhumane and unethical" administration and defended Trump's cruelest policies. Though Trump came to Sanders' defense, The New York Times noted his response was delayed and notably lukewarm (though quite scathing for Red Hen once it landed). He also was allegedly asking people in private about their impression of the press secretary. To many, this signaled that Sanders was falling out of favor with Trump.

According to The Times, Trump also told Sanders he was "going to grade" each of her televised performances as if it was a school exam. Though some claimed he was only joking, Salon reported that Washington insiders believed Sanders would be let go around July, her one-year anniversary on the job. Regardless of the fact that Sanders managed to keep her job past that mark, there appears to have been some turmoil surrounding Trump's relationship with the Arkansas native.

He's mad she didn't walk out of the White House correspondents' dinner roast

The White House Correspondents' Dinner has been a point of contention for many GOP members, including Donald Trump, who has repeatedly attacked the validity of the press corps. During the annual dinner, comedian Michelle Wolf roasted the administration and made particularly callous remarks about Sanders, who was sitting at the head table.

Wolf aligned Sanders with Aunt Lydia, Ann Dowd's character in The Handmaid's Tale who is tasked with keeping the handmaids in line. She also joked that the press secretary "burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smokey eye. Like maybe she's born with it, maybe it's lies."

Though Politico reports that members of the administration walked out of the dinner after hearing Wolf's scathing remarks, Sanders took it gracefully. She later told Fox News that the evening "says a whole lot more" about Wolf than it says about her.

Apparently, President Trump believed taking the high road was the wrong move. The New York Times reports that Trump thought Sanders should have walked out of the dinner like some of her colleagues. As Pluralist reports, The Times originally claimed that the president thought Sanders was "weak," though that word has since been removed from their report. It sure seems like things have been strained between Sanders and Trump, or maybe this was just a disagreement among friends.

She's taking up his way of speaking

As the public voice of President Trump, it shouldn't be surprising that Sanders has adopted his way of speaking. As NPR reported, the Press Secretary regularly "channels" her boss' sentiments in the White House press room. This can involve everything from well-placed jabs about journalists to the odd conspiracy theory.

Sanders has undoubtedly adopted Trump's blunt, caustic style of belittling members of left-leaning news outlets. According to The New Yorker, she launched into a "degrading" exercise on thankfulness at a pre-Thanksgiving press briefing. In June 2018, Fox News reported that she told CNN's Jim Acosta "I know it's hard for you to understand even short sentences, I guess" while discussing how the administration separated families illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. In a August 2018, The Huffington Post reported that Sanders refused to say the press wasn't "the enemy of the people." 

For comparison, in the past, Trump has mocked CNN, tossed Univision anchor Jorge Ramos from a press conference, routinely chided the press at events as "fake news,"and appeared to make fun of a disabled reporter at a South Carolina rally (Trump later claimed the latter wasn't true).

It doesn't stop there. Much like Trump, who has floated out his fair share of conspiracy theories, Sanders has bought in on at least one occasion. According to Newsweek, she drew criticism after referencing a debunked conspiracy theory about Osama bin Laden.

They're rolling with "Trump Derangement Syndrome"

Haven't heard of Trump Derangement Syndrome? You better watch out. According to Sanders it's "becoming a major epidemic among Democrats." Trump has referenced the dangerous disorder on more than one occasion — first regarding the media coverage surrounding his meeting with Vladimir Putin, and then regarding the media coverage about the inner workings of his administration. Whether it's a real medical diagnosis or not, the pair have rolled with it — so what is it and where did it come from?

According to Urban Dictionary, TDS is a mental condition where people "abandon all logic and reason" after being "driven effectively insane" by their dislike for Trump. CNN reported that the idea "goes back to the early 2000s" when it was first coined by Columnist Charles Krauthammer as "Bush Derangement Syndrome" (this was back during George W. Bush's time in the White House). It's since morphed to Obama Derangement Syndrome, the heart of which was the Trump-championed conspiracy theory that claimed Obama was not an American citizen. As of this writing, the term resides in its comfy Mar-a-lago home as TDS, and both Sanders and the President haven't shown any signs of letting go of it anytime soon.

Is staying on the same page really that hard?

You would think that the president's official mouthpiece would be the one person who is always on-message, but it's clear that Sanders and President Trump haven't sometimes gotten out of synch. For example, according to The Washington Post, Sanders basically blamed Trump for the reason she floated out a contradictory statement in early 2018.

In March, Sanders denied that Trump knew anything about the payment given to Stormy Daniels, which Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen claimed was from his own personal funds. Sanders admitted that she had "conversations with the president" on the subject. Fast forward to early May and Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani went on live television to claim Trump had reimbursed Cohen for the Daniels payment, meaning he definitely knew the payment existed.

Sanders confirmed that she had no idea Trump knew about the payment in advance (though they did, after all, have conversations on the subject). "The first awareness I had was during the interview last night," she said, according to The Washington Post.

This isn't an isolated incident. Sanders had a similar snafu a couple of months later over Donald Jr.'s infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer. According to Newsweek, Sanders claimed Trump didn't dictate Donald Jr.'s statement about the meeting, but Trump's legal team claimed he had.

She may be leaving sooner than you think

As of this writing, time has already shown that the rumors about Sanders being fired around her year work anniversary weren't true. Though she may have outlasted former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, that doesn't mean she's going to be in the White House for the long haul.

According to CNN, Sanders doesn't want to remain press secretary long-term because the job's "demanding schedule doesn't pair well with raising three young children." Some suspected Sanders would exit around the midterm elections. According to CBS News, the press secretary told friends that she planned to leave at the end of 2018. When CBS asked about her plans, she declined to comment.

Despite the rumors and the undeniably demanding schedule, Sanders apparently loves her job. CBS News reported that the Arkansas native opened up during a press briefing. She said, "I love my job. I'm glad to work for the president ... Right now I think the country looks pretty good and I'm glad to be a part of that process, and I'm going to continue to do my job."

Will someone be able to fill her shoes?

Sean Spicer lasted about seven months as White House press secretary before resigning. According to The New York Times, he deeply opposed Trump's decision to hire Anthony Scaramucci and felt like it would "add to the confusion" already surrounding the White House. Scaramucci lasted less than two weeks. So, handling White House communications seems to have been particularly taxing within Trump's administration, to say the least. That's why those close to the president have reportedly gone into panic mode over the thought of Sanders leaving, according to Politico.

The site reported that Sanders' good reputation in the White House has caused her her co-workers to worry that it will be difficult to fill her shoes if she leaves. One former administration official apparently asked, "Who would want that job?" — a question many of us have been wondering since Sean Spicer's short (but stressful) reign.

However, The Chicago Tribune reported that Sanders' credibility waned after numerous contradictions and incorrect statements. Although, to Sanders' credit, how effective can a press secretary be if they're not always given the full story? Though Sanders publicly claimed she wasn't planning to leave, Politico reports that Bill Shine, deputy chief of staff for communications, has allegedly begun asking around about possible replacements (he denied these claims and called Sanders a "total team player").

If Sanders does leave, it'd be par for the course of an administration plagued with departures. The only question is: who will be next?