Former Indian-American UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s next act

Nikki Haley, then-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, smiles as President Trump compliments her last October in the White House after she announced plans to leave the job. (Washington Post photo by Calla Kessler)

Two months after leaving her post as President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley is wading back into national politics with a new policy group and a forthcoming book – while saying that a presidential run in 2024 has not crossed her mind.

The former South Carolina governor and Republican rising star is also keeping up regular commentary on foreign policy – an area where she had little experience before being named to the U.N. post but is now among her chief calling cards as a potential future Republican presidential candidate.

“With the hyperpolarization that we have right now and the division that we have right now, I want to make sure that we put out good policy,” Haley said in an interview with The Washington Post ahead of Monday’s launch of “Stand for America,” her new policy group.

“I think that I can put information out there and not have anybody feel like it’s a threat because I’m not running for anything,” she added. “I’m not doing anything.”

That is not how many politics watchers are likely to see it. Haley – who would be 53 on Election Day in 2024 – is at the top of many GOP shortlists as a potential national candidate whose biography as the daughter of Indian immigrants and a former governor and ambassador would make her a compelling post-Trump Republican standard-bearer.

Haley has said that is not in the cards in the near term – ruling out a Republican challenge to Trump in 2020 and making a point of saying during her televised White House farewell that she would campaign for Trump’s re-election.

But what about 2024? She insists she is not planning that far ahead, even as her range of activities suggest she is keeping her options open.

“I thought hard about what life was going to be like as a private citizen, and I think what I’ve always loved is policy – whether it’s foreign policy or domestic policy, I’ve always loved it, and I always want to have a voice,” Haley said in the interview.

The organization’s initial list of subjects reflects Haley’s conservative worldview and political instincts, while its website features photographs of Haley traveling the world as U.N. ambassador and taking questions in the White House briefing room.

The group’s policy positions mostly align with Trump’s, while also bearing echoes of traditional Republican views that have taken a back seat during the populist-flavored Trump era.

She is tougher rhetorically on Russia that her former boss usually is, and says she disagrees with Trump’s preference for punitive tariffs as a negotiating tactic in trade disputes.

“America faces many threats from enemies and competitors overseas. China, Russia, and Iran are chief among these international dangers. Stand For America is committed to stopping dangers from abroad and protecting the American people’s security, interests, and values,” the new group’s website says. “More and more here at home, we see our prosperity being threatened by socialist schemes of higher taxes, burdensome job-destroying regulations, government-run health care, and unsecure borders.”

Haley deflects questions about her political future with a tone of polite exasperation.

“I love, kind of, that we’ve brought the stress level down a bit,” Haley said. “I’m enjoying that I can get out there and be more flexible in what I say and what I do.”

Gibbs Knotts, chairman of the political science department at the College of Charleston, called Haley an “exceptionally viable 2024 candidate.”

“She is someone who has support from the GOP establishment and Trump supporters,” Knotts said. “She also has executive branch experience as a popular governor. Her biggest weakness was a lack of foreign policy experience. However, this is no longer an issue given her work as U.N. ambassador.”

Her new organization is classified as a social welfare group, meaning it cannot endorse candidates, make political donations or raise money for her own political use. Haley plans to endorse and work for individual candidates on her own, including an as-yet undefined 2020 role in the re-election effort for Trump and Vice President Pence.

Haley said the group will back Democratic proposals when she thinks they help the debate, although there is little initial sign of that in the group’s material apart from support for term limits for politicians, which has had some bipartisan support over the years.

At the United Nations, Haley had success translating Trump’s “America First” policies into a less-confrontational style. She remains a staunch defender of his core policies and approach, including in setting conditions on U.S. foreign aid.

Haley disagreed with Trump’s initial travel ban targeting Muslim-majority nations. The website also shies away from Trump’s incendiary language on immigration, simply saying that Haley will focus on “border security” as a policy priority, for example.

“We’re going to probably agree on a lot of things, but I’m not being held back by, nor would he hold me back, on any differences of opinion that I would have with him,” Haley said.

Her book, to be published later this year, will be an autobiographical look at the last approximately five years. That covers the time of Haley’s rise as a national political figure, including her 2015 response to a racially motivated massacre at an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, her 2016 endorsement of GOP rivals to Trump and her time as one of Trump’s most prominent advisers.

“It will not be a tell-all,” said a Haley adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak more freely about her evolving plans. “She is not going to attack people in the administration; it’s not a score-settling thing. But she says things the way she thinks them. It’ll be her voice.”

Haley is already using her voice through speeches, including to pro-Israel organizations that have embraced Haley for focusing heavily on what she called an institutional anti-Israel bias at the United Nations. She will address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington next month, an event considered a must-do for many conservative Republican national candidates.

Haley and her family will remain in New York through her son’s expected high school graduation next year. She said they will then return to South Carolina, where she is resuming her role running a separate nonprofit focused on education and services in rural areas of the state.

Haley, whose Twitter feed as ambassador ranged from tart commentary on foreign policy to a running dialogue about music, art, vacation and dogs, had to shutter that account when she left government service. Her new account has included commentary on former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, actor Jussie Smollett and what she called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support for “every brutal dictator in the world!”

“I finally watched the McCabe intv.,” she wrote last week as McCabe made the rounds for a book critical of Trump. “Every American, regardless of party, should be concerned that a couple of people were able to start an investigation on a feeling, not evidence. Where were the checks and balances? These are the things that happen in other countries, not the US,” Haley wrote.

Smollett, the African American actor charged with falsely claiming that he was the victim of a hate crime, “must be held accountable in the strictest way,” Haley tweeted. “He must repay resources used to investigate and serve time for the division he caused. The media should be the most outraged. He played all of them for fools. He knew they would cover it.”

Trump has said much the same.

Asked whether she is comfortable with her unusual status as a high-profile former administration official on good terms with a volatile White House, Haley laughed.

“People are surprised by the fact that I got out of there, as they say, unscarred,” Haley said. “But I think that I got out of there the only way I knew how, which is just be the Cabinet member to the president that I wanted my Cabinet to be to be when I was governor,” Haley said.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here