Former President Donald Trump joined Sarah Huckabee Sanders on the campaign trail this weekend for a maskless fundraiser event that sparked immediate controversy after his ex-White House press secretary launched a gubernatorial bid in Arkansas.
Thanking the former president for joining her at the event on Friday night, Ms Sanders, whose father previously served as the governor of Arkansas, posted multiple photos from the fundraiser to Twitter.
Ms Sanders wrote: “Thank you President Trump for hosting an amazing event for my campaign last night!”
The photos showed supporters defying all sorts of public health guidances issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which was responsible for more than 561,000 deaths nationwide.
The crowd – which many noted was virtually all white – stood in close proximity to each other without any face masks, snapping photos of Ms Sanders and Mr Trump as they greeted each other on stage.
Mr Trump’s event for Ms Sanders appeared to have been held in Florida, where the former president has multiple resorts and golf courses.
This weekend, a conservative women’s summit was also held at one of Mr Trump’s properties featuring Matt Gaetz, the embattled congressman accused of violating child sex-trafficking laws, though the former president did not make an appearance at the Friday summit.
Ms Sanders’ post drew a wave of backlash from critics who noted the lack of social distancing, mask wearing and diversity in her crowd of supporters. Some also noted how the gubernatorial candidate has spent much of her time fundraising outside of Arkansas, as she was on Friday night, rather than campaigning across the state.
The former president has previously weighed in on the Arkansas gubernatorial race, calling current Governor Asa Hutchinson a “lightweight RINO” after the Republican vetoed a bill blocking medical services for transgender youth. The state legislature eventually overrode the governor’s veto of the bill, making it the first of its kind in the US.
Ms Sanders, who has not previously held elected political office, became a face of the Trump administration during her tenure as press secretary, where she drew controversy for promoting the former president’s falsities and defending his hardline agenda on immigration along the US-Mexico border.