Count me among those least surprised that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is departing. I’ve repeatedly urged she do just that to preserve her reputation and political viability and to get out before the special counsel’s report lands. Aside from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, she is the only Cabinet-level official whose stature has arguably increased (or at least not decreased) during her time in the administration. She is the only one with a political future who can say that.
Haley was a forceful advocate at the United Nations, a staunch ally of Israel and, in an administration that pandered to dictators, a credible voice for human rights. The Post reports:
Though Haley advanced Trump’s policies, she occasionally made public statements at odds with the White House and the president she served.
In December, she said that women who had accused Trump of sexual misconduct “should be heard.” When a White House adviser said Haley had been confused in prematurely announcing more sanctions against Russia, she said simply, “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”
The timing, however, is curious — but less so than one might imagine. She is giving the administration ample notice and not leaving until the end of the year. Perhaps her announcement was triggered over the administration’s tepid response to the disappearance and possible murder of Post Global Opinions contributor Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist and critic of the Saudi government. She might have had enough after the GOP’s nasty, misogynistic rhetoric expressed throughout the confirmation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. Or this just might have been the most convenient moment — after Kavanaugh was sworn in and far enough in advance of the midterms to not be too much of a distraction.
Haley is in a unique position among ex-Trump Cabinet officials. She’s uninvolved in the Russia probe (although we do not know if she was interviewed in connection with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s inquiry). Republicans have no cause for complaint, and yet she managed to let her criticism of incidents such as President Trump’s post-Charlottesville remarks be known. She has a bunch of options.
First, she has invaluable insight into the president’s mental condition and temperament. If she actually agrees with many sources in Bob Woodward’s book and the unnamed New York Times op-ed author that Trump is incapable of carrying out his duties, she has an obligation to relate those insights to Congress. Next January, if Democrats win the House, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who would chair the House Judiciary Committee, may want to talk to her — as well as others who’ve left (Rex Tillerson, H.R. McMaster, Gary Cohn) to assess Trump’s fitness. (What we do about that beyond investigating is far from clear, but if Haley knows of a risk to the country, she is obligated to come forward.)
Second, she might simply bide her time, waiting for the Trump administration to collapse under the weight of multiple investigations. She will then be in a position to pick up the pieces, a unifying figure not objectionable to Trump cultists or to the flock of Republicans who when things go downhill will claim they opposed Trump all along. She will be untainted and arguably the most highly credentialed challenger to Trump still within the GOP fold in 2020.
Third, she might prepare to primary fellow South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, who is up for reelection in 2020. Because Graham has become the president’s vicious attack dog, he’ll look terrible in hindsight if Trump’s scandals catch up with him. His crazed rhetoric during the Kavanaugh hearings has made him a hero inside the GOP but a laughingstock outside it; depending on how Kavanaugh and Trump fare, Graham’s conduct not only with regard to Kavanaugh but also in slavishly defending Trump may be his undoing.
Fourth, if Trump’s grip on the GOP remains — and his attacks on the rule of law, facts, women and decency continue — she would be an entirely credible member either at the top of or in the No. 2 slot on a center-right independent ticket, especially if the Democrats choose a far-left candidate with limited appeal. Haley-Murkowski? Kasich-Haley, or Haley-Kasich? Haley-Heitkamp? There are oodles of options.