Did you see that Politico summed up 2023 with a takeout on presidential wannabes who had good years and included Sarah Huckabee Sanders?

It called her the candidate likeliest to assume the Donald Trump mantle in 2028.

The phrasing seemed to allow for the possibility that the Trump mantle is not a burden of shame, at least in the current and literal shamelessness of a Republican presidential primary.

The Politico piece noted that Sanders is the only person who served in the Trump White House who now holds statewide elected office. I had not known that. I had assumed that some other state also had fallen for the fraudulent proposition that Trumpian association in the White House was anything less than scandalous.

Alas, I feel better about the other 49.

This is the full text of the rest of the Sanders' mention:

"She started her first year as governor signing into law a slew of far-right legislation, including: a ban on transgender students using school restrooms that align with their gender identity, looser rules for hiring 14- and 15-year-olds, a ban on 'obscene' material in public libraries with potential felony charges for librarians, vouchers for private and charter schools, and a ban on teachers discussing 'gender identity, sexual orientation and sexual reproduction' in school before fifth grade.

"Sanders also managed to survive delivering the Republican response to [Joe] Biden's 2023 State of the Union address, an often-thankless task that has doused the hopes of past presidential aspirants.

"And even though she hesitated to endorse Trump at the start of the year--reportedly provoking the former president's ire--in November she traveled to [Ron] DeSantis' home state and endorsed her former boss, avoiding a deep rift."

That Sanders has had a succession of deserved controversies in Arkansas is of no matter. All that counts anymore--newly in Arkansas by her redefinition of the governor's office, but a national truth for several years now--is nationalized politics.

State politics simply is of no consequence for a presidential wannabe using the governor's office for a national forum.

Every provincial criticism Sanders gets is dismissed in the reigning national context as coming from partisans who fear her for her Trumpian greatness.

Meanwhile, speaking of Trump-associated Republican women in a national context, the person appearing just ahead of Sanders on the Politico list is former UN ambassador Nikki Haley.

She has distanced herself from Trump to the point of running against him, and she is almost doing well enough to make herself interesting, if not an actual threat.

She has pulled even with or even slightly ahead of Ron DeSantis for a distant second place to Trump in Iowa, which will hold its caucuses in two weeks. She has pulled to within 44-30 of Trump in New Hampshire, with DeSantis an abysmal fourth, behind Chris Christie.

The problem is that the race then goes to South Carolina, where Haley is behind by 29 points to Trump in a state where she was a popular Republican governor.

But she has done well enough to be called a mild force, and the strongest of the other-than-Trump contingent.

I have written recently in favorable terms about her politics of Trump disassociation, generational politics and a more traditional and conventional conservatism that allows tiny hints of moderation and pragmatism.

Online commenters have criticized or lampooned me for a bait-and-switch--talking up Haley now only to assail her later against Joe Biden.

I think this may be a rare occasion of my innocence.

First, Haley runs stronger against Joe Biden than Trump. If my aim was to serve Biden, I wouldn't tout her, but him.

Second, there is nothing sinister about wanting a grave threat to our republic--Trump--taken out as soon as possible. There is nothing sinister about wanting America's vital two-party system to offer once again two responsible parties, not one remade in the image of a madman (and the other acceptable anymore only as the lesser of affronts).

And here is the real kicker: Trump is so alarming that I have come to concern myself, at least for now, less with deep policy differences and more with any fresh face offering conventional political skill.

I look for mere hints of moderation and practicality that might save the country from a candidacy all about personal resentment and retribution.

So, I offer this deal: If Republicans will nominate Haley instead of Trump, I'll think about voting for her, particularly with modern Democrats given over in part to a new intolerant illiberalism presenting itself as new-left progressivism.

The best way to stop Sanders' mantle inheritance for '28 is to stomp the mantle flat in '24.

That's as far I can go at the present time.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.

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