Ever since now-former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson began falling out of favor with President Donald Trump last year, foreign policy observers have pointed to United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley as a contender for a promotion.
With Trump's pick of CIA director Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson last week, Haley appears set to remain at her current post in New York for the foreseeable future.
But while Trump's decision could be viewed as a Haley snub, experts say continuity may be in the former South Carolina governor's best interest, giving her the time to continue honing her newfound foreign policy chops.
"She's in a good situation where she is, so why change now," said Scott Buchanan, a political science professor at The Citadel. "Haley has gotten rave reviews from Republicans for her job performance as U.N. ambassador. So you could make the argument this isn't so much a snub as it is a vote of confidence in how she's doing at her current job."
Despite her minimal international experience when taking the U.N. role, Haley has become a leading figure in the administration's approach to foreign affairs.
Using similar tactics from her years cajoling South Carolina lawmakers, she has courted allies and put opposing diplomats on notice they may face retribution from the U.S. if they do not support American prerogatives.
By staying in New York, Haley remains at a comfortable distance from the turbulent nucleus of the administration in Washington. Other administration officials have climbed the ladder in the White House only to end up getting burned when they flew too close to the sun.
Managing the State Department promises to be a difficult task for whoever ends up filling the role. Employees complain morale has plummeted at the agency since Tillerson took over last year due to many unfilled vacancies and an increasingly centralized decision-making process.
"She is not in Washington having to deal 24/7 with all of the issues that go on at the State Department, so that frees her up and means she doesn't run as much of a risk," Buchanan said. "She's done a good job of not crossing swords. There are times when she seems to come close and then pulls back from the edge."
The U.N. also offers an ideal stage for Haley to cultivate her potential aspirations for higher office.
Democrats have already begun digging into Haley's past in preparation for a possible presidential campaign. Fellow diplomats at the U.N. have speculated Haley's bid for the White House is only a matter of time.
"There is always a suspicion that Trump sees Haley as a future political threat," said Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert and Columbia University professor. "But I think that she has done enough to prove that she is a loyalist and an asset for the administration, too. She has a lot of influential friends in Congress, and Pompeo should treat her with care."
If Pompeo is confirmed by the Senate, Haley will need to acclimate to a new boss. As a newcomer to the political world, Tillerson was an unusually reserved secretary of state. Gowan predicts Pompeo, a former congressman, "may want to assert a bit more authority over Haley than Tillerson ever could."
But the pair may find that they work well in tandem.
"Pompeo and Haley actually share pretty similar views on questions like the Iran deal, and they could turn into a hawkish double-act pushing hard-line U.S. positions on the Middle East or Korea over foreign objections," Gowan said.
The bigger potential threat to Haley, Gowan added, would be if former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton is named Trump's new national security adviser. A vociferous critic of the U.N., Bolton has already reportedly approached Haley in the past about his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.
"If Bolton gets into the White House, he will lean on Haley to find new ways to weaken the U.N., reducing her autonomy and inviting a backlash from foreign diplomats," Gowan said.
At least for now, Haley has given no indication that she intends to scale back her visibility.
The day after Trump fired Tillerson, Haley vehemently condemned Russia for a nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom, offering the administration's most forceful response to the episode yet.
"Let's just put it this way," Buchanan said. "I haven't seen any tweets coming from the president hurled at Ambassador Haley recently. If you're working under President Trump, that's a pretty good sign."