Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders waded deep into culture war issues in the official Republican Party response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.
The former White House press secretary for President Donald Trump delivered a searing speech one might typically hear during prime time on Fox News. The 15-minute speech included a litany of far-right grievances about so-called “woke” mobs that she claimed are indoctrinating American children about race and gender, alongside more conventional GOP criticisms of Biden’s policies.
“I’m the first woman to lead my state. And he’s the first man to surrender his presidency to a woke mob that can’t even tell you what a woman is,” Sanders said of Biden in a seated address from Little Rock, Arkansas.
“We are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight. Every day, we are told that we must partake in their rituals, salute their flags and worship their false idols,” she added, in another veiled attack against the LGBTQ community.
In Biden’s America, Sanders continued, “children are taught to hate one another on account of their race but not to love one another or our great country.” The line was a reference to critical race theory, a favorite target on the right. Upon becoming governor, Sanders signed an executive order banning the teaching of critical race theory in Arkansas public classrooms on the grounds that schools “shouldn’t teach our kids and our students ideas to hate this country.” Critical race theory, a course of study typically confined to college-level programs, investigates the way in which societal institutions are shaped by racial and ethnic history.
As governor, Sanders also banned the word “Latinx” from official state documents, another favorite right-wing punching bag. She claimed the word ― a gender-neutral term to describe someone of Hispanic or Latino origin ― constitutes “ethnically insensitive and pejorative language.”
Sanders is part of a new generation of GOP leaders, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who are tossing red meat to the party’s base of voters to gain prominence on a national level. The decision by GOP congressional leaders to have her deliver the official response to the State of the Union address is an interesting one, given that many GOP candidates who ran on similar far-right themes lost their campaigns in the November midterm elections.
Sanders, who at age 40 is the youngest governor in America and whose father was a previous Arkansas governor, made a case for generational change from both major political parties in her speech Tuesday. It’s unclear, however, whether her call for “a new generation of Republican leadership” included Trump, who’s running for president again.
“It’s time for a new generation to lead. This is our moment. This is our opportunity,” Sanders said, noting that Biden, at 80, is “the oldest president in American history.”
She also characterized the visions presented by the two parties in stark terms yet ones that some Democrats might agree with, albeit for different reasons.
“The choice is no longer between right or left. The choice is between normal and crazy,” Sanders said.