By Brian Hicks
Nikki Haley was in Jerusalem this week, attending a conference on U.S.-Israel relations, visiting the Western Wall — and polishing her image as a world leader.
Meanwhile, 6,000 miles away, other folks were doing their best to make her one.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Sunday, a friend of President Donald Trump’s called on him to dump Vice President Mike Pence and recruit our former governor as his 2020 running mate.
As if that idea hasn’t been out there for a year or two.
“It’s too late for Mr. Trump to revamp his political personality,” wrote Andrew Stein, a New York City politician and founder of Democrats for Trump. “But with the 2016 election in the past, Nikki Haley on the ticket could tamp down the antipathy for Mr. Trump that seems to afflict so many moderate and Republican-leaning women.”
Besides the fact that Stein suggests anyone who disapproves of the president suffers from an illness, point taken. He argues evangelicals are already solidly behind Trump, which is true, and their support was all Pence actually brought to the relationship.
Which is also probably true.
Haley, on the other hand, is a superstar wildly popular with Republicans and even some Democrats. No matter your opinion of her, there’s no denying Haley’s political skill. She managed to survive nearly two years in the administration, and leave on her own terms with her reputation mostly intact.
Now there’s a coronation practically under way.
All this “Draft Haley” drama is enough to make you wonder if Haley is actually that good, or just extremely lucky. If it’s the latter, we really need to recruit her to buy us all lottery tickets.
Because what happened this week was either masterful politics or just dumb luck.
No matter how unlikely this vice presidential scenario, Haley’s reputation and political future gets another boost. Without lifting a finger, she’s now widely considered the heir apparent.
Several people — including the conservative Bill Kristol and The New York Times’ White House correspondent Maggie Haberman — speculated there’s no way a Trump friend published that piece in a paper controlled by Rupert Murdoch without the administration’s consent.
That would make this a trial balloon, one that didn’t survive the trial. For good reason. See, while most folks concede Haley is infinitely more adroit at politics than Pence, switching vice presidents during a campaign — not done since the days of FDR — would reek of desperation.
It would also force at least a tacit admission from Trump, who considers himself politically invincible, that he needed help. And that’s just not his thing.
Of course, most people overlooked the most obvious hiccup in this palace intrigue: Haley likely wouldn’t go along.
South Carolina’s former governor has set herself up as the next Republican nominee to the White House, and now it’s commonly held conventional wisdom. She has no reason to risk all that to join this carnival of an administration.
There is little upside. If Trump loses, it taints her. And even if she was put on the ticket and Trump wins re-election, she would have to survive four years in the White House.
And these days that place has more turnover than the average McDonald’s.
Haley isn’t stupid. The former governor and ambassador knows she’s better off doing exactly what she’s doing — stumping for politicians in exchange for future endorsements, writing books and taking international trips that make her look like a serious and thoughtful leader.
That’s textbook presidential campaigning, and the status quo will be back in style one day.
President Trump shot down the idea of trading Pence for Haley on Wednesday, carefully saying very nice things about his former ambassador. Trump claimed there was a place for Haley (the State Department, perhaps?) but said he 100 percent supports Pence.
Which should make the vice president a tad nervous, since the president previously said he was 100 percent willing to testify for the Mueller investigation and that he would 100 percent shut down the U.S-Mexico border.
But that’s another story.
So what we’ve learned (again) this week is that Haley somehow manages to keep winning, no matter what the circumstances.
When she returns from the Middle East, she’d be smart to keep doing what she’s doing ... and buy some lottery tickets.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.