Former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who has been sharply critical of Donald Trump’s conduct on January 6, is now telling reporters she’ll back the 45th president if he tries a 2024 comeback — and certainly won’t run against him herself.
Haley has frequently been mentioned by pundits near and far as a possible 2024 candidate, particularly after she managed to survive a stint in a prominent Trump administration foreign-policy post with her reputation for independence largely intact, and without doing or saying anything to arouse the fury of The Boss. Watching her conduct a couple of deft maneuvers that reinforced her non-Trump brand while remaining within the MAGA orbit, I commented in 2019: “Color me impressed.”
I was hardly alone in noticing Haley’s balancing act with respect to Trump. In a recent profile of her in Politico Magazine, Tim Alberta noted it as a defining characteristic:
Haley [has] navigated the Trump era with a singular shrewdness, messaging and maneuvering in ways that kept her in solid standing both with the GOP donor class as well as with the president and his base. She maintained a direct line to Trump, keeping private her candid criticisms of him, while publicly striking an air of detached deference.
“President Trump has not always chosen the right words. He was wrong with his words in Charlottesville, and I told him so at the time,” Haley told the RNC crowd, a ballroom stuffed with Trump supporters. “He was badly wrong with his words yesterday.” Then, she added: “And it wasn’t just his words. His actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history.”
She told Alberta a few days later that she was furious at Trump for his treatment of Mike Pence, and basically threw the former president over the side:
“He’s not going to run for federal office again,” Haley said. But what if he does? Or at least, what if he spends the next four years threatening to? Can the Republican Party heal with Trump in the picture?
“I don’t think he’s going to be in the picture,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I don’t think he can. He’s fallen so far.”
Now Haley has clearly reassessed her position, and Trump’s, and has bent her knee again, probably hoping that he doesn’t read Politico Magazine. But at the age of 49, she has plenty of time to prepare for a future presidential run. As an Asian American woman, she can embody the racial and ethnic outreach Republicans need without making them change their ideology. And having served two terms as governor and then checked the “foreign policy” box at the U.N., she has nothing left to prove.
Given her reputation for political shrewdness, Haley may be a canary in the coal mine for other Republicans with an eye on the White House. That she is now singing “Hail to the Chief” just like the people who lustily cheered for him on January 6 is telling. It does theoretically open up a 2024 “lane” for those willing to stand up and challenge Trump if he runs and disrespect him if he doesn’t. But it’s unclear if anyone serious will move in that direction. It’s far safer to stay in line and hope Trump gets bored with politics or finds himself looking down the barrel of an indictment or two. Until then, the peril involved in writing him off or risking his displeasure is just too great. And like courtiers to a decrepit king, self-designated successors can “have it both ways,” by tugging the forelock while coldly watching him for signs of weakness.