Nikki Haley Is Warming Up in the Bullpen — as Trump Falters

Source Composite Sean Culligan/OZY; Image Getty

Why you should care

Because a lot can happen between now and fall 2020.

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Susan Del Percio

Susan Del Percio is a New York–based Republican strategist.

About a year ago I wrote a column in which I called for Nikki Haley to run for president in 2020. Since then, Haley has resigned her position as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and, when asked, has frequently said that she would not be a candidate for president in 2020.

There is no reason to doubt her comments. For the past year, many Republican insiders have approached Haley to run a primary challenge against President Donald Trump, and she’s repeatedly turned them down.

While Haley has often been mentioned as a possible replacement for Vice President Mike Pence, she has denied being interested and on Aug. 21 shot it down definitively on Twitter.

Again, we should take her at her word. Yet, based on comments over the past couple of months, there is little doubt that she is laying the groundwork for a 2020 run should Trump resign, opt to not seek reelection or even be removed from office.

Republicans are becoming increasingly aware that any of these things are possible. Just last week, a Gallup poll found that 52 percent of Americans believe Trump should be impeached and removed from office versus 46 percent who say he should not — a 7 percentage-point jump for removal since June.

It would be political malpractice not to prepare for a presidential run, no matter how subtly.

Since leaving her White House post, Haley has announced her new policy group, Stand for America, and authored a book titled With All Due Respect, coming out in November. These are certainly two ways to stay relevant and keep her name in the mix.

However, what is even more interesting are the small but significant remarks and tweets she has made over the past two months. They indicate how she would differentiate herself from Trump on domestic and foreign policy. 

On the economy: Haley tweeted on Sept. 12 “this can’t continue,” in response to a headline about how the budget deficit topped $1 trillion in just 11 months. While she didn’t directly blame the president, she further raised eyebrows with a follow-up tweet emphasizing “we don’t have an endless bank account.”

On democracy: Speaking at Elon University in North Carolina on Sept. 27, Haley said she is most concerned about the freedoms of speech, press and religion on college campuses. Furthermore, Haley has tweeted several times about shared values with Hong Kong and praised the House on the recent passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

On foreign policy: She immediately called out Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria as a “big mistake.”

As Trump is failing the commander-in-chief test, Republicans are starting to hold him accountable. In addition, he has infuriated evangelicals. On Oct. 13, Pat Robertson went so far as to say: “The president of the United States is in danger of losing the mandate of heaven.” It all has Trump acting like a cornered animal, ready to lash out.

Add to that how news on Ukraine and Syria is happening at uncontrollable breakneck speed, causing Trump to rant at news conferences, malign the speaker of the House and looked unhinged.

It would be political malpractice not to prepare for a presidential run, no matter how subtly. Haley has played this all correctly, should the opportunity present itself. Having left the administration at the right time, she has laid out a clear contrast on key issues but hasn’t directly confronted Trump enough to anger his core supporters. As far as the vice president goes, he will carry the stench of everything Trump has done.

Make no mistake about it, should Trump not run for any reason, there will be a Republican stampede to get behind Haley — leaving Pence to eat her dust.

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