The New Face of the GOP?
Why are more young women identifying themselves as Republican? We asked GOP wunderkind Sarah Huckabee Sanders, daughter of former presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.
By Shushannah Walshe
In July, you signed on as a senior adviser to Tim Pawlenty's presidential campaign. A month later, he pulled out of the race. How did you feel about that?
I was upset because obviously I wanted him to be the nominee and later go on to be president. But I also understood why he made the decision, having looked at the electorate and what they wanted out of a candidate. Pawlenty just didn't fit the bill for this cycle.
Did you try to convince him to hang in a little bit longer?
Not at all. Keep in mind, I'm someone who's been through the process. It gave me a perspective on it that other operatives and consultants normally don't have. So I wasn't going to be aggressive and push him into staying in the race longer than he felt he should.
There's been a noticeable shift in the demographics of the GOP, once solidly the domain of old, white men, but now increasingly embracing young women. Why do you think that is?
One of the things that Democrats have been extremely good at up until this point is telling women, "If you don't vote with us, you can't succeed." I don't think women are buying it anymore. There are a lot more women in the workforce and in business who now have firsthand knowledge of just how damaging the current fiscal policies have been, how they've handicapped a lot of businesses and kept them from succeeding. These women are also making more money, and are finding that they don't like a government intent on taking more of it. So even though all women haven't necessarily made the transition on social issues, you're starting to see more of them make the leap and embrace conservative fiscal values.
Are you one of those women conservative on fiscal issues but socially liberal?
I am very pro-life, pro Second Amendment, pro smaller taxes and more localized government. I'm solidly conservative.
Your dad was a former pastor and now hosts his own show on Fox News. Is it fair to say that he helped inform your values?
Of course a lot of my beliefs come from growing up in a very conservative home. I'm the youngest of three children I have two older brothers. So I'm a total daddy's girl. I learned at a very early age that if I said "Daddy" in just the right way, I could pretty much get anything I wanted. I've been volunteering for my dad since I was 9, when he first ran for public office. When he ran for president four years ago, I joined his campaign full-time as the national political director.
There were many who hoped he would throw his hat in the ring for president in 2012. Were you disappointed when he decided not to run?
It was one of those bittersweet moments. A part of me was very relieved that we didn't have to go through that grueling process. I think people have the misconception that running for president is extremely glamorous. It's really not. You're working 20 hours a day, constantly being attacked everything you've ever thought is questioned. You rarely see your family. You rarely get to go home. Every meal you eat is whatever somebody grabbed on the way from one event to the next. As a candidate, you almost have to ask permission to go to the bathroom. But I also think that my dad would've done extremely well in this contest. So part of me is sad that he's not in the middle of it.
Do you think that Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin represent modern young women like you?
I appreciate the energy and the enthusiasm that they bring to the party. And I respect the beliefs that they have most of them mirror my own. Sometimes I wish that the approach was a little bit different. I learned from my dad that you can be a conservative without being angry about it. I don't think we need to yell at each other to be heard. In fact, I think in order to get things accomplished and move forward constructively, it's better if we don't. Governing well requires that you work with people you don't always agree with. But I do think both Bachmann and Palin are paving the way for all women in politics, not just conservatives. It's because of them and Hillary Clinton, for that matter that our nation is getting used to seeing women out front, instead of behind the scenes, as real front-runners and potential leaders. That's no small thing.
Among the current Republican front-runners are Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, both of whom your father hasn't had the best relationship with. What do you think of them?
I don't have any disrespect for the people in the race. Obviously, there are people I probably like a little more than others, but right now there's nobody whom I want to really pour blood, sweat, and tears into getting elected. That said, I think any of the Republican candidates would be much better than President Obama. I will work to help whoever the GOP nominee is to win and defeat Obama.
Time magazine once called you "Huckabee's Family Field General." Any interest in running for office yourself?
I wouldn't rule it out. I think being governor of Arkansas has got to be one of the coolest jobs. But I'm not quite sure I have all of the same qualities my dad had that would allow me to not only be successful but be able to handle the day-to-day stresses of it all.
As a seasoned presidential campaign staffer, do you have any advice for volunteers considering diving in?
Pack light. And try to eat when you can, sleep when you can, and go to the bathroom when you can.