Haley’s Comet Changes Course

There’s a lot to be said about United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s announcement that she’ll soon leave the post, but the first thing we have to say is that we’re sorry to see her go. We thought she did a fine job under difficult circumstances, and we worry that her replacement won’t provide the same restraining adult influence on President Donald Trump’s worst foreign policy instincts.
Of course most of the political chatter on Thursday was speculation about why she’s leaving, and why now, and what she might do next, and of course there were plenty of theories to go around about each question.
Haley’s explanation that after four years in the South Carolina legislature and eight years as governor of the state and two years at the UN she’s in need of a break seems plausible enough, but she also appears fit enough that people couldn’t help speculating about other reasons.
One popular theory is that she’s getting out of the Trump administration while the getting’s good, which also seems plausible enough, given what’s likely to come along after the mid-terms, when the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” resumes indicting people, and a plausible Democratic majority in the House of Representatives might start its own troublesome investigations. She’s the first person to leave the Trump administration with reputation largely intact, and she might well be the last.
Another plausible theory is that Haley has a choice of many better-paying jobs in the private sector, and that after 14 years public service she could use the money. State legislators and governors make a good salary in South Carolina, as do ambassadors to the UN, but without graft you’ll never get so rich as we expect our celebrities to be. One of her home state’s oldest newspapers has reported she’s deeply in debt, according to a Washington Post columnist her parents’ home is reportedly in foreclosure, and there’s little doubt that Haley’s proved smarts and toughness and personal appeal, not to mention the connections she’s made in the course of a meteoric career, could well fetch a price on the open market to rectify all that quite quickly.
Why now is another interesting question, which has spawned many interesting theories about the rising influence of national security advisor John Bolton and the controversy regarding Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but our best answer is why not now? There are the usual suspicions about why she’s announced her resignation before the mid-terms, but there would have been the usual suspicions about why she did so after the mid-terms, and there’s never a time that isn’t preoccupied with some Trump controversy or another. Trump doesn’t have to name a replacement until late November, and would be well advised to wait until the voting’s done, so now struck us as good a time as any.
What she does next is by far the most intriguing question, and has already spawned much speculation that will eventually be tested by time. We’ll go out on a limb and predict that you haven’t heard the last of her. For now she’d be well advised to cash in on her opportunities at some more-or-less respectable multinational corporation and get on a sound financial footing, lay low while the Trump administration plays out, then remerge from the inevitable wreckage to rescue the once Grand Old Party. She seems uniquely well positioned to do so.
Haley is such a talented politician that even as the daughter of Sikh Indian immigrants she won two terms in the legislature of arch-conservative South Carolina, and then two terms as its Republican governor. Her governorship was notable for its traditional business-friendly and budget-balancing Republican principles, as well as the economic good times that resulted, but she also permanently lowered the Confederate battle flag from state buildings, more generally urged her fellow South Carolinians toward racial and sexual equality, always conducted herself with a ladylike respect for others, and otherwise violated what she surely knew were rapidly becoming the principles of the Republican party.
Haley was an outspoken opponent of Trump’s candidacy, but he wound up winning the South Carolina primary and eventually the Republican nomination anyway, and after that she was more muted in her criticisms. After Trump wound up winning the presidency she wound up as his UN ambassador, despite all the bad things they’d said about one another. In her new job she was tougher on Russia than Trump seemed to prefer, and frequently differed with the president on those race and sex controversies he’s always caught up in, but she was a loyal enough soldier that she left with Trump’s effusive praise. She’s vowed not to run against Trump in ’20, but at the young age of 46 she’ll still be in good shape for the ’24 race, and we wouldn’t rule out the possibility that she won’t have to run against Trump in ’20.
Somehow or another the Republicans have gained a reputation as a party of ugly old white men during Trump’s presidency, and an attractive young dark-skinned woman would be the perfect antidote. Her traditional business-friendly and budget-balancing Republican principles would also play well with the general public against the crazy tax-and-spend socialist those damned Democrats are likely to nominate, her elegantly ladylike demeanor and unifying rhetoric would play well with the independents turned off by Trump’s boorish demagoguery, and even the most fervid Trump fans would have to admit that she left to Trump’s effusive praise.
On the other hand, she might well find that she prefers a quietly anonymous and highly lucrative life in the private sector, and we wouldn’t blame her if she did. Even so, we’ll go out on a limb and predict you haven’t heard the last of her, and in any case we’ll wish her the best.

— Bud Norman

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