Sometimes in politics, as in regular life, people protest a bit too much about things nobody really believes they’ve done. That seems to be the case with this tweet from Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the U.N., which shoots down some “false rumors”:
As Jennifer Haberkorn tartly noted: “That’s one way to make sure everyone knows about the rumors.” The rumors in question, if you want to call them that, involve the occasional trollish column suggesting that Donald Trump could improve his standing among women by dumping his vice-president for the bright, shiny political penny that is Nikki Haley. I hasten to say that I do not travel in any of the same circles as Ms. Haley, and don’t know what rumors have been whispered in her presence. But the idea that Trump would reward sycophant-in-chief Pence with a ticket to the boneyard, especially given the veep’s key role as the administration’s most trusted representative of the Christian right, seems patently ridiculous.
What her tweet indicates to me is that Haley is ambitious enough to make absolutely sure she’s on good terms with Trump and with Pence, which is probably a good idea since she endorsed Marco Rubio in 2016 and had a few unflattering things to say about the GOP’s current emperor-god before he entered the White House. A bit of distance from Trump World is okay; she certainly had every right and reason to denounce an earlier, and even more ridiculous (not to mention insulting) rumor that she was having an affair with the 45th president. But if, say, the Trump-Pence ticket goes down in defeat in 2020, she would not want vengeful Trumpites to block her possible candidacy in 2024, or later (she’s only 47).
Part of her problem, of course, is that people who really don’t like Donald Trump, both within and beyond the GOP, have a habit of treating her as the potential leader of a more open-minded, open-hearted, and far less piggy Republican Party. Aside from her gender and ethnicity (she is an Indian-American), Haley has gotten probably more credit than she deserves for a too-late-to-be-courageous stand against a Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina statehouse, and for her occasional, minor acts of independence while representing Trump at the U.N.
It’s as good a time as any to remember that she came out of the hardcore conservative Sanford-DeMint wing of the South Carolina Republican Party. Among her first big national fans were Sarah Palin and Erick Erickson. As governor, she announced in her annual address to the legislature that she spurned capital investments from companies that tolerated unions. Earlier this year, she was the keynote speaker at the annual event of an extremist anti-abortion group, the Susan B. Anthony List. She’s no “moderate,” or even a reformicon, best I can tell. And in fact, what she may offer her national party is the same old ideology in a different packaging.
Haley is, however, a skilled opportunist, a trait she displayed last year when she penned an op-ed attacking the anonymous author of another op-ed who claimed to be a high-ranking administration official who was patriotically sabotaging some of their boss’ darker impulses. Haley’s column was a small masterpiece of self-promotion masquerading as loyalty, as I noted at the time:
She went on at some length in describing the White House as a place where everyone with true power has easy access to Trump. And she portrays the president as a man who listens patiently to dissenting views, which she had had occasion to offer on more than one occasion….
She managed to suck up to Trump even in the act of declaring her independence from him. She positioned herself as both unshakably faithful to the boss, and as having enough clout to tell the president to his face when he is wrong, showing loyalty but earning respect.
I can’t help but think the tweet of loyalty to Mike Pence is in the same spirit of the self-effacing friend of Trump-Pence and MAGA who is strictly looking out for number one.