As the first Sunday morning of a new administration dawned, Sarah Huckabee Sanders arrived at the White House press office to find the phone ringing off the hook.
“Sarah, is that you?” asked a familiar voice. Two days after his inauguration, President Donald Trump was in a mood to chat.
He told her about “this beautiful tweet” he had composed to attack a Democratic member of Congress the previous day. But he was in a secured room when he hit send, so the tweet never posted.
“Divine intervention, Sarah?” Trump teased.
“I don’t know, Mr. President,” Sanders said. “But perhaps the next time you have a ‘beautiful tweet’ to fire off, maybe you should go spend a little more time there.”
Her sass made Trump laugh out loud. It was her first step into his inner circle.
In “Speaking for Myself” (St. Martin’s), out Tuesday, Trump’s former press secretary paints an affectionate portrait of a president whose foul mouth and combative attitude should have sent the devout Christian mother of three running for cover.
“I want America and even the world to see the president that I see,” Sanders told The Post. “A generous and kind person who really loves this country and will do whatever it takes to make it great.”
It helped that Sanders is a political animal herself. At age 24, she ran a national presidential campaign for her father, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and won an upset in the 2008 Iowa caucuses. Eight years later, she helmed her dad’s second try.
When Trump’s oxygen-sucking dominance pushed Huckabee out of the 2016 race, Sanders was devastated.
“When it’s your dad, that adds a whole new layer,” she said. “And when you feel personally responsible for the loss, like I did, it was incredibly difficult.”
Then Trump sought her father’s endorsement. Huckabee’s contract with Fox News made that impossible, he explained.
“But the next best thing he could offer him was me,” Sanders writes.
The arranged political marriage blossomed, fueled at first by Sanders’ deep antipathy for Hillary Clinton. The Clintons preceded the Huckabees in the Arkansas governor’s mansion — young Sarah slept in Chelsea’s childhood bedroom — and strove to torpedo the GOP takeover. “The Clinton Democratic machine zeroed out his office budget and literally nailed his door shut” when Huckabee was elected, Sanders writes.
“I was 10 years old,” Sanders said. “For that to be your first introduction to politics, it leaves a pretty lasting impression.”
Four months after taking office, Trump tasked Sanders to lead the press briefings that communications director Sean Spicer had been unable to manage. Sanders confronted the journalists with a schoolmarm act that delighted the boss.
Trump would usually watch her briefings live. “You’re a f–king killer!” he exclaimed after particularly incendiary sessions. In the “ultimate sign of his approval,” Sanders writes, he would present her with one of his precious Diet Cokes, or offer his favorite flavors of Starburst candies as a reward: “You can have all the pink and reds you want.”
In Sanders, he saw an ally who would not betray his trust. “How do I know? Because you’re a Christian and you wouldn’t get into heaven if you did,” he once told her. “That’s why I’ve always liked religious people!”
In return, he made her one of his closest confidantes. “I spent more time with him than just about anybody else but the family,” Sanders said. “The president knew I wasn’t trying to push any agenda other than his.”
Trump sought her opinion on every major issue, from picking Supreme Court nominees to firing Cabinet members — even matters of military strategy.
“Huh,” Trump once said in the White House Situation Room, surrounded by his top military advisers, after asking Sanders to weigh in on the American response to a chemical-weapons attack in Syria. “I figured you would have been more ruthless.”
Sanders calls Trump a devoted dad, despite his inability to watch his language around little ears. She describes a Christmas cussfest he launched by the tree at a White House holiday party as Sanders’ young daughter Scarlett stood nearby.
“Scarlett listened intently as the president dropped an explosive F-bomb on the media,” Sanders writes. “Sir, you can’t say that, she’s 6!” she objected.
“Oh, s–t,” Trump replied. “Well, sweetheart, it was only a matter of time,” he told the girl apologetically. “Welcome to the real world!”
Sanders left the administration last summer of her own volition — a rarity in Trump’s revolving-door White House. In her final weeks, Trump latched on to rumors that she might run for her father’s old job when Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the Republican incumbent, is term-limited out of office in 2022.
“You will crush everyone,” he declared.
“From that moment on,” Sanders writes, “the president referred to me as ‘Madam Governor’ in front of senators, governors, White House staff — even Prince Charles on the UK state visit.”
She’ll make a decision about the race in the next few months.
“I’m very serious about it,” she said. “I’ve already had one of the biggest titles I could have when it comes to politics. So I want to do this because I feel called to do it.”
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