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In Memoir, Sarah Huckabee Sanders Shows She's All In With Trump

<em>Speaking for Myself: Faith, Freedom, and the Fight of Our Lives Inside the Trump White House,</em> by Sarah Huckabee Sanders
St. Martin's Press
Speaking for Myself: Faith, Freedom, and the Fight of Our Lives Inside the Trump White House, by Sarah Huckabee Sanders

The photo on the book jacket of Sarah Huckabee Sanders smiling up at President Trump as they walk along the White House Rose Garden reveals a lot about the story inside.

For more than two years, Sanders was a key part of Trump's inner circle, reaching a level of trust and access few have in this unconventional administration.

"I didn't just love my job, I loved the president and most of the people I worked with," she writes.

Her new book, Speaking for Myself: Faith, Freedom, and the Fight of Our Lives Inside the Trump White House, is not about settling scores like many books about the Trump White House. It's an unabashed homage to Trump and a feathering of her nest for a probable run for governor in Arkansas.

Her tenure was nothing but tumultuous — holding epic fights with the press, being accused repeatedly of misleading the public and doing away with traditional daily press briefings.

But readers won't get much of a taste of the inner workings of the Trump White House beyond the headlines.

Sanders writes a partisan tale focused primarily on her 23 months at the White House. She never directly criticizes the president and takes aim at his detractors, including Hillary Clinton and John Bolton, his former national security adviser, who she wrote was "drunk on power."

But she also shares tidbits about working in the White House and what, from her perspective, Trump is like when the cameras are off.

She opens the book recalling in detail the president's secret Christmas Day flight to Iraq and being reduced to tears by a soldier who ripped a U.S. Army patch off his uniform to give to her.

She reveals her role during practice sessions for then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's public hearings. She played the role of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, during the so-called "murder boarding" session.

"With all due respect, Judge, you think you're the victim here?" Sanders said she asked him. "An innocent woman said you sexually assaulted her. Explain to me why you're the victim?"

She shared how Trump adorned the back dining room off the Oval Office — where he does much of his work — with a UFC championship belt to accompany the famous paintings of former presidents that decorate the walls.

Not surprisingly, he closely watched her briefings and often showered her with compliments.

"I loved it. You're a f------ killer!" she writes about a particularly harsh exchange with reporters. "In the ultimate sign of his approval, the president told the valet to bring me a coke."

Though having a front row inside, Sanders does not dish much on the well-documented chaos that the administration is best known for. She notes the administration's problems with leaks but largely paints a sanitized picture of a family atmosphere with various struggles but shared goals.

She faithfully recounts many of the more well-known experiences, including how hurt she felt when she and her family were kicked out of a restaurant in the Virginia mountains.

She documents perhaps the most chaotic 10 days of the administration when Anthony Scaramucci took over as White House communications director, proceeded to fire members of her team and gave an expletive-filled magazine interview before being fired by then-newly hired chief of staff Gen. John Kelly.

She explains how Kelly struggled with the president's family and their role in the administration. "Having grown up in a political family, I warned Kelly that in a fight between family and staff, family always wins," Sanders writes.

She expresses little remorse about her self-described "slip of the tongue" when she admitted to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators that she made false statements to reporters regarding the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Instead, she accused the FBI of trying to "vilify" her "as payback for vigorously defending the president."

She goes deeper when describing her pain sitting through the 2018 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner when comedian Michelle Wolf repeatedly mocked her appearance and questioned her integrity.

"I debated walking out or perhaps even throwing my wineglass at her," she writes of the night. "But ultimately I stayed in my seat and held my head high."

It was those experiences that made her lean into her faith to help her, Sanders writes: "Being the White House press secretary for President Trump was a tough job. In the darkest moments I questioned how much more our family could endure and at what cost."

Whether readers enjoy this book is likely to depend on their views of Trump. She emphatically calls for Trump's reelection and sets up her own probable campaign to run for governor of Arkansas as a Trump surrogate.

She never crosses the president. One of the only times she acknowledges any kind of mistake was during Trump's highly criticized summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki .

"It was a missed opportunity to send an unmistakably clear message to Russia and other foreign adversaries not to interfere in our election," she writes.

It was barely an acknowledgment considering the uproar Trump created when he failed to publicly challenge Putin's denial of interfering in the 2016 election. At the time, Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, called it "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."

Coming on the heels of the Republican National Convention, the publication of Sanders' book coincidentally appears to try to reinforce Republican efforts to humanize a president known more for his bravado than compassion.

Throughout the book, she shares anecdotes of Trump talking affectionately with the first lady, his love for bagpipes and his "laugh-out-loud sense of humor." She writes Trump almost admitted crying after hearing Kavanaugh talk about his 10-year-old daughter during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

"You know I'm not a crier," Sanders says Trump told her when asked whether he cried. "But I'm not going to answer that."

She writes in detail of Trump's historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and finishes the chapter with Trump and Kelly laughing that Kim was hitting on her.

She puts particular emphasis on Trump's relationship with women, which polls suggest is a major Trump reelection weakness: "As a woman and working mom, President Trump not only empowered me – he defended me and reaffirmed me when the feminists and liberals were tearing me down with cruel and dehumanizing personal attacks."

Sander's potential bid for Arkansas governor hasn't been a secret. When Trump announced Sanders was leaving, he publicly expressed his hope that she run for governor.

Her book certainly has the feel of a campaign book for herself. She gives insight about herself, her faith and upbringing, including earlier life in the Arkansas governor's mansion when her father was governor. "The Governor's Mansion would later be the location for our senior homecoming dinner," she writes.

She opens up about her relationship with her husband, Bryan, their little fights when building furniture and the challenges of raising kids as a working mom. And she reflects on her own postpartum challenges, "crying over the smallest things" and feeling like she wasn't connecting at first with her newborn daughter, Scarlett. "I knew I was supposed to be joyful about being a mom, but I felt so isolated," she writes.

She also highlights Trump's help in a potential run, explaining that his referring her to as "Madam Governor" in front of senators, governors White House staff "and even Prince Charles on the UK state visit" helped raised her profile.

Trump urged her to get out early, she says. But she made clear what her first priorities were: "The election isn't for a few more years, sir," she told him. "Let's get you reelected first."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.