Well, that didn’t take long.
On Tuesday, Nikki Haley got a ceremonial and emotional Oval Office send-off just moments after resigning as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
If only everyone got to quit their job in such an opulent setting, accompanied by gushing praise from the president of the United States.
Haley’s departure from her Cabinet-level Trump administration position was reportedly so surprising that her staff didn’t realize it was coming. But in far too many ways this is no surprise at all.
South Carolina knows all too well that Haley is a calculating and shrewd political player — and players don’t quit before the championship.
So we now join the parlor games, already in progress: Some say she’s off to the private sector to make boatloads of money. Others claim she is abandoning the administration while she still has her good name.
Of course, many people believe — despite her unsolicited assurances to the contrary — she will be a candidate for high office in 2020.
As all this speculation careens off into the stratosphere, let’s be clear about one thing: Nikki Haley is doing what she’s always done, and that is whatever is best for Nikki Haley.
And right now, Haley is keeping her options open.
That is a really smart play.
Covering all the angles
The timing of Haley’s resignation was a thing of pure political beauty.
Moderates can read it as a subtle protest against the hardline policies of John Bolton, the national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state.
Word is they were stealing her thunder and dampening her influence at the White House, and nobody puts Nikki in a corner.
Others see her departure, four weeks before midterm elections, as a way to avoid whatever narrative emerges from November. Her supporters can always say she got out before the bloodbath, if there is one. If the brand survives untarnished, well, this was always a regularly scheduled exit.
Democrats — who hold Haley in higher regard than anyone else in the Trump administration — could read something into the fact that she resigned the week after a contentious Supreme Court appointment in which the GOP looked less than favorable to many women.
It’s pretty to think so.
Haley said nary a word about any of this, of course, which is what makes it so masterful. People can read into it whatever they want.
CNN, MSNBC and Fox News largely sang Haley’s praises throughout the day, even though a Fox reporter snarkily pointed out that no one asked her about 2020 until she brought it up.
That’s our former governor. Doesn’t really matter much what they’re saying, just keep ‘em talking about you. She made sure that won’t end anytime soon. And without locking herself into any set path, Haley is in the perfect position for the next opportunity, whatever that might be.
Some South Carolinians who know Haley speculate that she’s decided to make some money while her star is on the rise.
That’s not a ridiculous notion. The Post and Courier reported Tuesday that she has at least a half-million in debt — but nothing a couple of corporate board appointments wouldn’t clear up.
No, neither debt nor accusations of ethics violations have driven Haley from her post. She left on her own terms, with assets far more valuable to her than any bank account.
Haley now has a resume that includes two elections as a state executive, two years of foreign policy experience and tenure in a presidential administration.
She didn’t compile that record to sit in the U.S. Senate. Make no mistake, whether it’s in 2020 or 2024, Haley is aiming for the White House.
She is so comfortably on that path she doesn’t have to plot an exact route yet.
The ambassador made it clear she will not run against Trump if he seeks re-election, but she could run with him. After Haley buttered up Trump and his family Tuesday, the president said he hoped she’d come back in another position. “She can have her pick.”
That’s practically an endorsement. If anyone needs to be scared here, it’s the church lady vice president.
Because Nikki Haley wasn’t being nostalgic for the Statehouse when she said “It’s a great day in the United States.”
That was a rallying cry.
Nikki Haley isn’t finished — she’s just getting started.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com.