Rumor has it President Trump is considering swapping Vice President Mike Pence with former American ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. “This is not a prediction,” said CNN political analyst Paul Begala, “it’s a certainty.” Haley would be a great choice—if Trump intends to utterly abandon the agenda that got him elected.
There is a reason the rabidly anti-Trump Bill Kristol floated Haley as primary challenger to Trump in 2020; warhawks of a feather flock together.
Pitting Haley against Trump would mean certain political suicide for her, but seeding her in the White House would, in a Machiavellian twist, boost her profile and afford her countless opportunities to subvert the America First agenda. From immigration to foreign policy, Haley has been no friend to MAGA.
While speaking officially on behalf of the GOP in response to President Obama’s State of the Union in January 2016, Haley had her own “basket of deplorables” moment. She claimed Trump’s supporters had been seduced by “the siren call of the angriest voices”—that is, that they had no legitimate grievances and were merely swayed by Trump’s supposedly baseless hate-mongering because they themselves are hateful.
Though she did not name him then, she made it clear later: “Yes, Mr. Trump has definitely contributed to what I think is just irresponsible talk.” Rush Limbaugh went further. “She also means the conservative base,” he said, “and don’t believe anything other than that.”
Limbaugh had described himself as a fan of Haley’s but said he saw her real face in that speech. “It’s the first time in my life I can remember the response to the state of the union not going after the president but rather going off on the front-runner of, in this case, her own party,” Limbaugh said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. And it is quite telling to note where in the drive-by media and in the conservative media today she’s being hailed.”
Weak on Illegal Immigration
The Washington Post praised Haley as the “GOP’s Obama” for her “diverse” background, for posturing as a sort of bipartisan healer-figure, and for her rebuke of then-candidate Trump and his America First agenda. The Christian Science Monitor wondered if a Romney-Haley ticket wasn’t an establishment match made in heaven.
Trump would do well to remember his own rebuke of Haley in response to her shot across the bow: “She’s very weak on illegal immigration and she certainly has no trouble asking me for campaign contributions because over the years she’s asked me for a hell of a lot of money in campaign contributions.”
Indeed, Haley is at odds with Stephen Miller on immigration, the last man in the White House who is true to the America First immigration mandate.
When Miller brought together senior officials in 2018 to discuss a plan to reduce the number of refugees admitted to the United States, Haley was deliberately excluded, presumably for her previous opposition to drastic reductions of refugee resettlement numbers. A spokesperson said Miller’s discussion was conducted “in consultation with all appropriate government agencies.” Likely as a result of her views on immigration, then, Haley was kept out of the discussion.
To the extent that her absence makes Miller’s job easier, her presence as Vice President Haley would make it exponentially more difficult. No doubt she would steer the administration away from meaningful America First immigration policy, as she endeavored to do with foreign policy as ambassador to the U.N.
More Regime Change
Though President Trump ran on the promise that no more American blood and treasure would be spilled over the Middle East, Haley has different ideas.
On April 9, 2017, “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson asked then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson whether regime change in Syria was on the table for the Trump Administration. “Our priority in Syria, John, really hasn’t changed,” said Tillerson. “I think the president has—been quite clear. First and foremost, we must defeat ISIS.” Haley took a very different view.
She told CNN host Jake Tapper that “regime change is something that we think is going to happen because all of the parties are going to see that [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria.”
CNN’s Chris Cillizza noted the divergent opinions and offered a remarkably lucid take. “It’s two factions within the foreign policy wing of the Trump White House trying to convince the president of the rightness of their positions on Syria via public channels,” he wrote. Fortunately for America, Haley’s faction lost—but our odds go way down if Trump makes her his running mate.
At a time when Trump was prudently attempting to pour the oil of conciliation over troubled waters with Russia, Haley remained antagonistic. Moscow, she said at a GOP retreat in February 2018, “is not, will not, be our friend.” That statement surely flowed as music to the ears of neoconservative warmongers, but it fell flat when Trump had a congenial meeting with Russian President Putin in Helsinki a few months later.
Capitulation on the Culture Wars
But Haley’s role in the culture war most reveals her compromised character.
Recall that she came out against a bill that would have required people to use public restrooms corresponding to their biological sex. “Then-Gov. Nikki Haley said the ban could cripple the economy,” reports The Post and Courier. Haley is functionally progressive, insofar as she offers little or no resistance and goes with grain, but is prudent enough to have platitudes about market economics on hand as an excuse—“it’s not me, it’s the economy.” Trump ran explicitly against the idea that markets come before the American people and their culture.
There are, moreover, some things you can’t put a price on, like a backbone—the lack of which Haley especially demonstrated on the Confederate flag.
After a gunman murdered nine people at a church in South Carolina, Haley somehow tied the controversy over the Confederate flag to the shooting and thus indirectly associated all of its defenders with the killer. Regardless of her assertions that this was not her intention, Haley dismissed everyone willing to defend that flag as someone on the “wrong side of history” when she virtue signaled.
Haley had always been “woke.” She simply needed the right moment to show us just how woke. “I think the more important part is it should have never been there,” she told CNN’s Don Lemon in 2015, after the Confederate flag had been removed from the South Carolina statehouse grounds.
“Haley had previously been a supporter of the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage honoring residents’ ancestors,” wrote journalist Eugene Scott. But she changed her mind. “The biggest reason I asked for that flag to come down was I couldn’t look my children in the face and justify it staying there,” she said. But Haley showed here that she is flexible. As the winds of change blew in with Trump, so her story changed with the times.
“My position on the Confederate flag has been constant,” she wrote in a 2019 op-ed for the Washington Post. “Our country’s culture has changed.” Not that “it never should have been there,” or “I couldn’t look my children in the face.” No, now that Trump has shown that fighting for unpopular causes can be a winning political formula, Haley’s story is that she only brought down the rebel standard to keep the outrage mob from getting out of hand. Notice also her constant tugging at heartstrings, invoking her children and, more often, her background as a minority and the child of immigrants.
Haley has all the hallmarks of someone who operates with political expediency as a rule. Appeals to emotion, comic displays of faux strength, radically different stances on the same issue depending on the times. But there remains a remarkable consistency and cunning through it all.
She has maneuvered herself into a good light with the president and his supporters, despite remaining ideologically opposed to the America First agenda. Haley has gone from being the GOP’s Obama—the quintessential anti-Trump Republican—to a favorite of Trump supporters and now a potential replacement for Mike Pence. If the day of Vice President Haley ever arrives, Trump’s base should have no illusions about the flatlining vital signs of the America First moment.