Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley
Credit: US Embassy Tegucigalpa/Flickr

When I wrote about United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s well-timed departure announcement on Tuesday, I had a very straightforward theory of the case. In my estimation, she let it be known that she’ll be leaving her post at the end of the year because she expects the Mueller investigation to ramp back up after the elections, and she doesn’t anticipate it will bring good news for the administration. She wants to create some distance from Trump and maintain her viability as an alternative nominee in 2020.  If you ask DC Republicans why she made the announcement before the elections, they seem to be mystified, as though they’ve forgotten all about the fact that Paul Manafort is now a cooperating witness.

It’s not shocking that Haley isn’t interested in serving President Trump’s foreign policy anymore. He probably reached his nadir in her field when the United Nations General Assembly almost laughed him off the stage on September 25th. In truth, things haven’t been right since at least April, when Ambassador Haley had a serious row with National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and the administration over Russian sanctions.

When a White House official suggested this week that United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley had suffered “momentary confusion” over the Trump Administration’s approach to new Russian sanctions, she responded with a clear message to the contrary.

“With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” Haley said in a statement on Tuesday.

By all reports, Haley first informed Trump that she intended to leave roughly six months ago, which places her decision back during the time she was undercut by Kudlow. The mystery is not that she’s leaving, but that she couldn’t wait until after the midterms to make it official.

The announcement prompted questions over its timing, coming days after the White House scored a major victory in the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“The president just had one of the best weekends of his presidency and immediately starts the week with a bad story,” said Republican political operative Alex Conant. “For Republicans that were hoping that Brett Kavanaugh enthusiasm would last through November, the timing is unfortunate.”

If you insist on seeing her announcement as somehow coupled to the Supreme Court controversy, it sends the signal that she might have seen the elevation of Kavanaugh as the last straw. When the administration’s most high-profile woman steps down immediately after a battle like that, it’s easy to make a connection. But that’s an extremely speculative proposition. We know she had already made her decision to leave, so did watching how Kavanaugh was handled really have a meaningful impact? Could that be the real reason she decided to step on the feel-good news cycle for the Republicans?

It’s possible, but I believe my theory makes much more sense. It’s doubtful that news cycles concern her as much as her ambitions for higher office. She had a choice about when to make her departure official, and she would take the risk by waiting past the midterms of having her decision announced in the context of more Russia probe indictments or even a report to Congress detailing obstruction of justice and collusion. That would be problematic for her and for the president, who would not benefit from the optics of losing his UN ambassador at a point when his conduct with a foreign power was the main subject in the news. For Haley, she couldn’t wait until Mueller ended his pre-election hiatus, and that meant that she should make the announcement now rather than letting it get even closer to Election Day.

Republican insiders refused to entertain or even imagine either of those scenarios, however, and overall they appeared to be rattled and confused by the news.

Haley’s exit, which comes just weeks before the November midterm elections, will be viewed as a sign of tumult in the administration at an inopportune moment for the White House. Her abrupt exit follows a major victory for Trump on the hard-fought confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

It reportedly blindsided many in the administration, including [National Security Adviser John] Bolton and White House chief of staff John Kelly…

…“The timing here, I think, would strike most political observers as unusual. It’s not the normal kind of thing to announce a resignation like this a month before the midterm congressional elections,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) told CNN on Tuesday afternoon.

That didn’t mean that they weren’t willing to engage in some conspiratorial speculation. For example, one rumor had it that she was positioning herself to take over Lindsey Graham’s Senate seat next year in case Trump fires Attorney General Jeff Sessions and nominates Graham as his replacement. Of course, that doesn’t make sense for at least two reasons. As already mentioned, she told the president privately six months ago that she intended to leave. And there’s no reason why she needed to announce her decision now in order to be considered for a Senate seat that would become vacant after her departure in any case.

Another theory was that she was getting out in front of an ethics complaint about her air travel lodged with the State Department’s inspector general on Monday. The problem with that is that her resignation letter is dated from late last week.

It appears that inside the Republican bubble, it’s simply not possible to entertain the possibility that Haley might be leaving a ship whose hull has been ripped wide open by the temporarily submerged iceberg of Robert Mueller’s investigation. They’re in too much of a self-righteous and congratulatory mood over Kavanaugh to even voice the possibility that a woman like Haley might have seen the treatment of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as the last and most insufferable of many indignities.

Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, said on [December 10, 2017] that women who have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct “should be heard,” a surprising break from the administration’s longstanding assertion that the allegations are false and that voters rightly dismissed them when they elected Mr. Trump.

Ms. Haley, a former governor and one of the highest-ranking women in Mr. Trump’s administration, refocused attention on the allegations against the president by insisting that his accusers should be treated no differently than the scores of women who have come forward in recent weeks with stories of sexual harassment and misconduct against other men.

“They should be heard, and they should be dealt with,” Ms. Haley said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And I think we heard from them prior to the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.”

For the Republican establishment, her announcement is just a mystery and the only possible explanations they can produce don’t even make a modicum of sense.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at