Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for first lady Melania Trump, is emerging as the top candidate to replace outgoing White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, according to sources familiar with the selection process.
Grisham, a former Trump campaign aide who has served in the White House since Trump took office, is known as a shrewd tactician loyal to the first family. But significantly, she meets President Trump’s top criteria: that Sanders’s replacement be a woman.
“When he says he wants a woman, he wants a woman,” a source familiar with the selection process told the Washington Examiner.
A second source, a former Trump aide, said “the president really wants to have a woman fill this role,” adding Trump has mentioned both Grisham and former State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert as possible successors to Sanders.
Grisham, 42, is a beloved East Wing figure and has many supporters close to Trump. In November, she issued an unusual statement calling for the ouster of Mira Ricardel, a National Security Council official with whom the first lady clashed on a trip to Africa. Ricardel quickly lost her job.
A single mother of two sons, she followed Trump to Washington from Arizona, where she worked for state Republicans including then-Attorney General Tom Horne. In 2012, she was part of GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign.
While working as a traveling press secretary on the 2016 Trump campaign, she was so dedicated she did not see her son, Jake — who was then eight — for five and a half months. He older son has now graduated from high school.
A shortlist of four contenders in the aftermath of Sanders’s surprise departure announcement Thursday featured Grisham, Nauert, outgoing Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh, and Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley.
But Nauert was forced in February to withdraw from a nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reportedly due to employing a foreign nanny. A source said the issue that derailed Nauert is serious enough to keep her out of the running, however.
“The reasons she had to pull out from the U.N. would be the same reasons she couldn’t do it,” said a source close to senior State Department officials.
The first source said of Grisham: “She handles herself well on TV, but the press secretary job has turned more into a comms than a press role. And there are some people who are good on camera but not so good at communications strategy. She’s a killer on both fronts.”
“[Grisham] would be fine in front of the podium, and she would be fine on strategic issues. I don’t think Sarah was as sharp as her. Grisham won’t hesitate to slide that knife into someone’s back, which is what you need. This is the White House.”
Sanders said she plans to leave at the end of June, establishing a short window to pick her replacement.
Grisham, the first source said, may take a sharper approach to “reporters being unfair” and “people in the administration doing things they shouldn’t.” They imagine Grisham “basically being the president’s press and political secret service — if you need to shiv someone, you do it.”
The second source said Sayegh “is awesome and would be the best choice,” but is not a woman, and that “I don’t hear Hogan being discussed as a real option.” They noted that although Trump seems likely to pick a woman, it was possible Trump could end up “thinking way outside the box” and “further redefine the role.”
Sanders has gone nearly 100 days without an official White House briefing, opting instead for informal driveway gaggles. Trump tweeted this year that he asked Sanders to cease briefings because “the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately.” In another break from tradition, Trump has not filled the vacant White House communications director role since the exit of former Fox News executive Bill Shine in March.
A third source, a former White House official, said they heard Grisham has a “good shot” but that there’s “nothing final.” A fourth source, who worked on the Trump campaign, said “I’ve heard is that Stephanie is open to the position.” Several sources say they have not heard Gidley mentioned as a serious contender.
Though Grisham is said to be the front-runner, it’s possible Trump will be tempted to pick a different woman, particularly if the first lady resists losing her top aide. Morgan Ortagus, a spokeswoman at the State Department, and several Fox News personalities have been floated as theoretical candidates.
Trump may also be tempted by the prospect of naming the first Hispanic American to the job. But CNN commentator Steve Cortes, who reportedly is under consideration, lacks widespread backing and the preferred gender.
“When the president decides he wants a woman in a role, it is difficult to impossible to convince him of anyone other than a woman,” a source said.