Why Nikki Haley isn’t jumping off the Trump train any time soon

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Andrew Gawthorpe   -The  Guardian

In her new book, Haley is doubling down on her support for Trump – and hoping it will lead to fame and fortune in the Republican party

‘Haley is making a bet that her future depends on devotion to Trump and his brand of populism.’ Photograph: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

Historians know that there are two types of political memoirs. The first are the books that politicians write at the end of their careers. These are often self-centered and biased, but they at least generally tell us something useful about the past. Such books take time to write – Barack Obama still hasn’t finished his. Then there is the second type of memoir, those books that are dashed off quickly by politicians and their publicists in order to take their career to the next level. These memoirs tell us more about how the author imagines the future than they do about the past.

Nikki Haley’s new memoir, With All Due Respect, is the second type. Haley has written the book in just over a year since leaving her job as United States ambassador to the United Nations. Haley also sat in Donald Trump’s cabinet, and she would undoubtedly have some interesting stories to tell if she chose to. For the most part, she does not. Instead, Haley is using the book to try to position herself for fame and fortune in the Republican party of the future. Specifically, Haley is making a bet that her future depends on devotion to Trump and his brand of populism.

While others who worked for Trump have tried to suggest they acted as a check on his worst instincts, Haley does the opposite. She says that she refused to support the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and White House chief of staff, John Kelly, when they confided in her that sometimes ignoring or undermining Trump was necessary to “save the country”. The subtext – nefarious agents of the deep state being resisted by a loyal devotee of the president – could hardly be clearer, or more calculated to appeal to the president and his supporters.

During her time as ambassador to the United Nations, Haley developed an undeserved reputation in some quarters as a moderate who was willing to push back against the administration. But the statements that won her this reputation – such as saying that women who have accused Trump of sexual assault “should be heard” – barely counted as criticisms at all. They only made waves because the rest of the president’s party was engulfed in cowardly silence.

So, even though she might think that those women “should be heard”, she still went to work for a man who has bragged of sexual assault. She might be of immigrant heritage, but she still defended family separation at the border against criticism from the United Nations, claiming that the policy was necessary to “control our borders and protect our people”. And she might have privately complained to Trump about his “both sides” remarks following the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, but she declined to do so in public – instead saying that “no one can question that he’s opposed to bigotry and hate in this country.”

She clearly sees a future in which bigotry and populism will continue to define the Republican brand

In a recent interview, Haley even defended the racist taunt that Trump directed at four Democratic members of Congress, all women of color, who he said should “go back” to their countries. While calling the president’s remark “not appropriate”, she also said “I can appreciate where he’s coming from”, because the congresswomen in question “bash America”. Haley frequently rationalizes Trump’s actions in such a way, portraying the president as the defender of “real people” against bigoted and corrupt elites. She dismisses the impeachment investigation against the president in similar terms.

 

That someone with a reputation – however undeserved – for putting daylight between herself and the president would choose instead to double down on Trumpism in such a way is telling. It is doubly so given that Haley, an Indian-American, is the most prominent woman of color in the Republican party. She clearly sees a future in which bigotry and populism will continue to define the Republican brand, and believes that her personal survival requires her to toe the party line as closely as possible. Meanwhile, hate crimes against Indian-Americans are surging, and advocacy groups blame the party’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

This crude attempt to ride the populist wave all the way into the Oval Office, which seems to be Haley’s ultimate goal, confirms just how narrow and insular the Republican party has become. But it also says something about Haley herself. Had she possessed the necessary moral fiber, she could have made a shot at redemption, calling out Trump’s bigotry and corruption. Haley is young, and will be in Republican politics for many decades yet – long enough for Trumpism to be exorcised, if there are those willing to do it. Instead, she opted to be a follower and not a leader, and to follow the Republican party into dark places, even if she quibbles a little along the way. The real memoirs, when they get written, will not be kind.

  • Andy Gawthorpe is a historian of the United States at Leiden University in the Netherlands

 

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