Nikki Haley wants you to know that she’s not quitting her awesome, once-in-a-lifetime job to spend more time with her family.
This is a rare thing among those permanently rising stars in the Republican party who just happen to announce their departures ahead of the expected train wreck of the midterm elections next month.
Paul Ryan, the outgoing House speaker, is leaving his awesome job because he honestly, truly wants to hang out with his own teenagers.
But Haley is different. “My family is very supportive,” the departing US ambassador to the UN said in the Oval Office on Tuesday. “So no, there’s no personal reasons. I think that it’s just very important for government officials to understand when it’s time to step aside. And I have given everything I’ve got these last eight years. And I do think that sometimes it’s good to rotate in other people who can put that same energy and power into it.”
The crop rotation theory of government is a fascinating one, but it’s usually cited by the person doing the firing rather than the person doing the quitting. On the Kavanaugh scale of unbelievably cheap lies, Haley’s selfless self-sacrifice is right down there with his claim that he vomited because of the spicy food.
As she was indulging in her moment of munificence, a painfully tense Donald Trump looked like he was perched on a chair of nails beside her. If he was worried about all the speculation about Haley running for president, he didn’t need to bother.
“No, I’m not running for 2020,” she declared, unprompted. “I can promise you what I’ll be doing is campaigning for this one. So I look forward to supporting the president in the next election.”
“That’s so good,” oozed Trump. “Thank you, Nikki.”
For some bizarre reason, the 45th president (“this one”) didn’t take offense at the notion that a former cabinet official might need to quash the rumors about challenging him for his own job.
A president who wasn’t clinging on to power by his fingernails might be offended by the preposterous statement. The mere mention would have been unthinkable around any of his predecessors.
But Trump is a beached whale of a boss, taking his last gasps of power before the House subpoenas start flying, and the Mueller investigation lays out its evidence of conspiracies and corruption like so much captured contraband.
Why was Trump so ready to keep Haley happy? Perhaps there was a clue in her effusive praise for the boss’s bestest children ever. “I can’t say enough good things about Jared and Ivanka,” she claimed. “Jared is such a hidden genius that no one understands.”
How true, ambassador. Nobody really understands how well he’s hiding his genius.
“I mean, to redo the Nafta deal the way he did,” she helpfully explained. “What I’ve done working with him on the Middle East peace plan – it is so unbelievably well done.
By “well done” she was referring to how thoroughly cooked this slab of meat looks. The whole Middle East is so tired of Jared Kushner’s winning, there’s only one obvious place left for him to go: the United Nations, as Haley’s replacement.
The reality distortion field around Trump is so intense that you expect those emerging from the Twilight Zone to declare what is so stunningly obvious to the rest of the world: the president is a racist and sexist bozo who is a clear and present danger to world peace.
Perhaps at some point Trump’s former officials will seek redemption by claiming they were suckered by a strange temporary sickness into salivating all over his disastrous leadership.
But these fantasies are getting more and more distant with each gushing statement of admiration in the Oval Office, and each victory lap in the East Room.
Perhaps these formerly sane officials realize it’s premature to dump on Trump, or perhaps they know the party will never forgive them. The truth is there’s no constituency for Haley to primary against Trump. And there’s no credibility in her making any claim that she was secretly moderating his many worst impulses.
No doubt the rest of the UN ambassadors viewed Haley as their channel to understanding the hermit kingdom of Trump’s brain, much as they all treat the North Korean ambassador as a channel to Kim Jong-un.
But Haley’s effect on Trump’s foreign policy is, as Republican senators like to say, uncorroborated and therefore completely refuted.
She said she was “taking names” of the countries voting against Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. This was as bizarre and bullying as everything else that spills out of Trump’s Twitter feed. It’s not that hard to identify America’s allies who oppose an end-run around an Israeli-Palestinian peace process: that would be all of them, with the exception of the Netanyahu government.
She happily endorsed Trump’s massive cuts to the US contribution to the UN budget, which she claimed had made the UN so much better. “We’ve made it stronger,” she said on Tuesday. “We’ve made it more efficient.”
If you remove a kidney from someone, you might make the remaining one work twice as hard. But describing it as stronger and more efficient doesn’t exactly capture the health of the patient.
Yes, Haley condemned Trump as she traveled the campaign trail with Marco Rubio more than two years ago, when dinosaurs still walked the planet.
But in the Trumpassic era those ancient words have been erased by her inane comments that the UN general assembly was laughing at her boss because “they loved how honest he is”. As opposed to them laughing at him because he’s so ludicrous when he claims to be the most successful president in history.
On the plus side, Haley did promise sanctions against Russia for its support for Syria’s chemical weapons program – a promise that ran into public opposition from her own White House. She helped deliver tough new UN sanctions against North Korea, which seemed like a united front until her own boss fell in love with Kim. And she insisted on denouncing the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, marking a sharp contrast with her boss who preferred to say they were “very fine people”.
This is sadly how distorted life is around Donald Trump. It’s tempting to say that Nikki Haley was a moderate because she condemned neo-Nazis. But that’s just as credible as her quitting to give someone else a chance at the UN.
Like Trump himself, his cabinet officials can lie to all of the people some of the time, and to some of the people all of the time. But they can’t ever reclaim their reputation.