Behind Nikki Haley's sudden exit

With the dust from the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight still far from settled, one of the Trump administr...

Posted: Oct 10, 2018 2:06 AM
Updated: Oct 10, 2018 2:06 AM

With the dust from the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight still far from settled, one of the Trump administration's top Cabinet members announced she is leaving.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, is resigning and leaving her post by the end of the year. As one of the few prominent women in the administration, Haley by leaving also spotlights the gender gap and gender issues plaguing a White House still reeling from the Kavanaugh confirmation.

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This news is indeed startling -- Haley is one of the most respected officials in the administration, both internally and internationally, among America's allies.

There was a palpable and collective anxiety about her exit in some circles, as she's been one of the more stabilizing forces in an otherwise chaotic Trump orbit. She also put a much-needed polish on the public face of the United States when Trump seems to have preferred unsettling our partners in the world.

Among conservatives, who have long been critical of the United Nations' historical inefficacy, many of us believe Haley used her position well to stand up not just for America's interests but also democracy's. She was often a lone voice of support for Israel among a body that is hostile toward it as well as a powerful foil to Russia, Syria and Iran.

As she said in her press conference Tuesday with President Donald Trump, "Now the United States is respected -- countries might not like what we do, but they respect what we do." She leaves big shoes to fill.

Here are some other unanswered questions as Haley prepares to depart:

What happened?

The chummy climate at the press conference suggests Haley's departure was not contentious. Early speculation that she was the author of that anonymous op-ed in The New York Times slamming Trump's White House belied his praise of her and vice versa.

It's possible, however, that she was simply fed up, not with Trump per se but with two years of mixed messages from the White House and an at times unclear foreign policy. She's been contradicted publicly by White House officials and has often offered a stronger message to our enemies than Trump. It's possible Haley and the White House were at loggerheads over any number of issues, from Saudi Arabia's alleged killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Trump's courting of Kim Jong Un to the US role in the Syrian genocide.

What is clear is that Haley does not want any of those disagreements, if there were some, to take center stage now.

Who takes her place?

It wasn't likely a coincidence that Haley used that press conference to heap praise on Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. She called Kushner a "hidden genius" for his behind-the-scenes work on Middle East peace. Both the President's daughter and son-in-law have shown interest in international affairs and could see that pay off with a UN post. It was also reported Tuesday that Dina Powell, Trump's former deputy national security adviser, recently spent the weekend with Haley and her family in South Carolina.

When asked about Haley's replacement, Trump interestingly said, "We have a number of people who want to do it," and said the announcement could come soon, within two or three weeks, suggesting he might already have someone in mind.

What does Haley do next?

The anxiety that many moderates feel as Haley leaves is perhaps countered with a parallel anticipation that her exit is a harbinger of something else -- a run for president.

On that point of order, Haley addressed it directly, saying, "No, I'm not running for 2020, but I will be campaigning for this one," meaning Trump.

Of course, we've heard that before and anything is possible. A race in 2024 could certainly be in the offing -- and I wouldn't be surprised (nor displeased) to hear that a Nikki Haley-Ben Sasse ticket is on the table for either presidential year.

But barring any disasters, Haley will be well-situated to do any number of things, from heading a think tank to running an international organization to campaigning for Republicans.

I for one hope we are only about to hear much, much more from Nikki Haley, not less.

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