Nikki Haley’s decision to accept an appointment to be the Trump Administration’s Ambassador to the United Nations is a little puzzling, and for now, raises more questions about her future and the plans of this Administration than it answers. Haley is one of the party’s rising stars, still young and relatively unknown nationally but firmly established in her second term as Governor of South Carolina. With two years left as Governor, but term-limited and blocked from seeking a Senate seat by South Carolina’s two Republican incumbents, Haley didn’t need to rush to take a new post. The downside is abandoning a state chief executive role for a job that’s traditionally more mouthpiece and negotiator than power-playing decisionmaker, and signing on from the get-go to an Administration that could be a train wreck, without even knowing yet who will be running State, Defense or other key foreign policy posts. She could easily have stayed where she was for two more years; Administrations turn over big jobs pretty regularly even when they’re not run by a guy whose signature line is “you’re fired!”
On the upside, Haley is relatively new to foreign policy, and the UN is a good place to ease into that role without having to run as much foreign policy decisionmaking. I saw Haley speak this weekend at the Federalist Society convention – she’s a charming speaker and gave a strong summary of her policy resume, and something of an indictment of the GOP in general for the failures that made Trump possible, but she was more tentative discussing things outside of her areas of experience. The UN is a glamor job that will get her national media attention, and Pat Moynihan provides a good example of how the UN job can be a stepping stone even when serving a president who isn’t especially successful or popular. And it gets her out of the snakepit of Columbia – where she still has a lot of enemies – on a high note.
Does the willingness to hire Haley tell us much about Trump? I doubt we will see much in the way of ideology as the basis of any of Trump’s hires outside of the jobs that handle immigration and trade policy. Sure, it shows Trump hiring a former critic, but first, Haley endorsed Trump in the general election and stuck by that endorsement without wavering (unlike, say, Kelly Ayotte or Joe Heck, who now seem persona non grata with Trump); second, it could sideline a potential (if unlikely) 2020 primary threat by bringing her inside the tent without giving her a position of great influence; and third, it rewards an early Trump endorser, South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Henry McMaster, who will now become Governor and could run in 2018 as the incumbent.