It’s hard to know for certain whether Nikki Haley’s decision to step down as the ambassador to the United Nations is basically an autonomous decision or is driven more by the president and his displeasure with her service. There is plenty of ammunition to arm either argument, and so it may be that this is a rare case where it really is a mutual decision.
What’s not really in doubt is that Ambassador Haley is ambitious. Having already served as a state governor and in a cabinet level position, the next step seems fairly obvious. She will seek the presidency and hope that at worst it earns her a place on the ticket as someone’s number two. The big question is whether she will wait until 2024 to make her run.
To be sure, she’s saying all the right things:
Ms. Haley, who has long been seen as a potential presidential candidate, said she had no intention of running for the presidency in 2020, as has been speculated. Instead, she said, she plans to campaign for Mr. Trump’s re-election.
“I think you have to be selfless enough to know when you step aside and allow someone else to do the job,” Ms. Haley said.
Yet, she knows just as well as everyone else that Robert Mueller’s special counsel’s office has accumulated a near phalanx of cooperating witnesses who are providing evidence against the president in the Russia investigation. She knows that the investigation has been on a campaign-related hiatus since Labor Day and will begin making big news again in only a handful of weeks. It is best you make your departure from the administration official before that happens to remove as much of the taint as can be removed. She has already made certain to leave a trail of dissent and disagreement with Trump policies and actions that she can point to in defense of her decision to serve in Trump’s cabinet. She can provide inside information to create further separation if she needs to, while choosing to stay mostly loyal if that seems like the better political choice.
She seems to have things plotted out fairly well, although it’s probably a mistake to agree to serve out the remainder of the year. That may require her to defend the president in ways that will come back to haunt her.
In any case, I wouldn’t take her promises not to run in 2020 and to campaign for Trump’s reelection at face value. Those are promises she can keep if they seem worth keeping, but if things work out the way she hopes, she will be breaking them.