Nikki Haley released a new book in which she defended Donald Trump and said she has no questions about his honesty. She also said the former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly asked her to undermine the president. Never Trumpers and anti-Trumpers jumped on her as a liar and a scoundrel saying she’s squandered her legacy. In fact, she’s now heir apparent, at least for the moment.
While some people believe she’s destroyed her reputation, Haley’s really positioned herself quite well. Trump needs supporters desperately right now, especially ones with a shred of credibility since so many of his defenders, like Lindsey Graham, have already destroyed their own. Trump’s supporters will hail her as a hero willing to stand up to an establishment determined to bring down the president at any cost. They make up more than 60% of the Republican Party.
On the other side of Haley, movement conservatives and Never Trumpers like Bill Kristol and Jonah Goldberg have set up a network of conservative outlets that both bash Trump and push more conservative policies. They see themselves as a kind of party-in-exile, waiting for the Trump regime to implode. Unfortunately, they’ve got very little influence anymore. Trump has exposed the thin veneer of the Reagan Revolution’s ideological underpinning. Support was always based more on cultural elements than a commitment to movement conservatism.
Haley is the one who has positioned herself as Trump’s successor. Her defense of the president will keep the Trump believers with her and the more reasonable Republicans who might be embarrassed or disgusted with Trump won’t hold the prevarications against her. Lying has never been a big liability in politics unless it’s part of a coverup. Haley’s just kissing up to Trump supporters by telling them what they want to hear. She might be self-serving, but she’s not stupid.
Some speculate that Trump will replace Pence with Haley on the ticket in 2020. It would certainly be in character. Pence brings nothing to the race and has served his purpose. He brought the evangelical community to Trump and now they’re more loyal to Trump than Pence. Haley could do the same with a sliver of suburban women, building a powerful constituency for Trump. Regardless, she’s in a better position to lead the new Trumpist GOP than most of the other Republicans who’ve remained loyal to Trump. And Trump has yet to make her debase herself. If he needs her enough, maybe he never will.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >