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The Haley-Trump Trial Balloon Is Pitiful

Stop trying to make Haley-Trump happen.
June 25, 2019
The Haley-Trump Trial Balloon Is Pitiful

What part of the Trump-dumps-Pence-for-Haley next year in a Haley Mary pass is the most laughable? That it would smack of desperation? Or that it would be designed to bring voters repelled by Trump—like moderate and suburban women—back into the fold?

Rumors have swirled for weeks, and Sunday night the Wall Street Journal published an oped by Andy Stein, who said he “founded the Democrats for Trump movement in 2016,” making the case that to win reelection Trump should fire his vice president and replace him on the ticket with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. There’s no doubt there are numerous fingerprints, and winks, and nods on this greasy balloon, including from Team Trump. But that doesn’t make it any less ham-handed.

It all sounds plausible since Trump has always publicly equivocated about Pence. In a Meet the Press interview that aired the same day that the oped ran, Trump said that he was 100 percent sure Pence would be his running mate. Yet in another recent interview he declined to endorse Pence for the presidency in 2024. Last week rally goers were waving signs behind Trump at his campaign kick-off in Orlando where Pence had appeared on stage with him, Mrs. Pence in tow, that read “Trump 2020.” Pence’s name was notably absent.

The one point Stein makes that we can all agree with is Pence is obviously no longer needed to make the sale with evangelical voters. Evangelicals have now seen Trump faced with sexual assault and rape allegations, adultery, compulsive lying, felony hush money payments, government-funded child abuse at detention centers on the border—you name it. And yet, they’re his biggest base of support. (After the white nationalists, of course.)

So no, Trump doesn’t need Pence to bring his religious base home. But would adding Nikki Haley to the ticket really win over college-educated white women who have been repelled by his sexual assault and rape allegations, adultery, compulsive lying, felony hush money payments, government-funded child abuse at detention centers on the border?

That’s a . . . big ask. Suburban women fueled the historic turnout in the midterms, choosing Democrats by a 20-point margin. It seems just as likely that they’d find such an overt pander to be even more repellent.

Also, the whole idea of Trump needing to dump Pence and bring in Haley reeks of desperation. If Trump’s theory of the race is that everything is so great again that we’ve just got to #KAGA, then why does he need Haley to give him a boost? Barack Obama didn’t need to drop Biden to win a second term. George W. Bush didn’t need more help than Dick Cheney could give him. Bill Clinton got the job down twice with the same guy.

You know what campaigns start coming up with outlandish gimmicks that are going to “save the election” for the incumbent president? Losing campaigns.

As for Nikki Haley, why would she possibly want to lower herself to this dirty job? The only thing worse than campaigning with Trump in an attempt to rescue him from himself would be serving as vice president to Trump and not even being able to fantasize about rescuing him from himself. Think about what a shit-show the last three years have been within this administration—and that’s been with the help of the varsity talent. Think about what it would look like in a second term, with everyone eyeing the exits and positioning for a post-Trump world. And that’s just the administrative side. Trump in a second term—even older and facing potential prosecution and the flowering of own delusions—will make the amateur authoritarian of 2018 and 2019—when he merely undermined the judiciary, our intelligence agencies, the rule of law, and the truth—seem quaint.

Currently the former governor of South Carolina is working hard to burnish her own brand of squeaky-clean-conservative-meets-the-Trumpy-Swamp in her new life in the private sector. She is willing to associate with the likes of Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, but is also compelling surrogate for general electorate crowds, which is why she has campaigned for Sens. Cory Gardner and Joni Ernst in the battlegrounds of Colorado and Iowa. She is also serving on the Boeing board, speaking and traveling and running an issue advocacy group called “Stand For America” that will serve as a launchpad for her own inevitable future presidential bid. Her book out this fall—which reportedly spares Trump any criticism—is supposed to portray her as “a leader who seeks to bring Americans together in divisive times.”

When Haley left the Trump administration (by coincidence submitting her resignation letter the day after Jamal Khashoggi was murdered) Trump gave her an Oval Office send off with the media saying she “has been very special to me.” But Haley was Never Trump in 2016, backing Sen. Marco Rubio and saying in February of 2016 that Trump was everything a governor wouldn’t want in a president. She held out Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric for criticism saying “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”

Once she became U.N. ambassador Haley worked—while physically separated at the United Nations in New York—to distance herself from the dysfunction of the Trump administration. The president noticed it, and also her tough rhetoric against his friend Vladmir Putin. And he didn’t like it. However, Haley knew how to stay in the power circle: She communicated frequently with Trump and befriended Ivanka and Jared, with whom she is still in close touch.

The most famous episode in her otherwise steady tenure came in April of 2018 when she pushed back publicly against an effort to kneecap her. After she announced new sanctions on Russia in a Sunday interview, Trump grew upset and decided he wasn’t ready to do it. Instead of admitting it was Trump changing his mind once again, and backing down from punishing the Russians no less, Trump sent Larry Kudlow out to blame Haley. Kudlow said she “got ahead of the curve. She’s done a great job. She’s a very effective ambassador. There might have been some momentary confusion about that.”

Haley went on Fox News to hit back, responding when asked about it: “with all due respect, I don’t get confused.”

All of which is to say that Haley knows as much as Pence, or former Defense Secretary James Mattis, or former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster just how Trump operates.

In short, rather than securing her political future, joining the Trump ticket would be a kamikaze mission for Haley, a way to finish off her political career. She would either go down in flames with him, and forever be explaining why she decided to. Or she would serve as a powerless vice president for an unbound Trump who has demonstrated over and over that he sees loyalty as a one-way street.

Just look at Mike Pence, who has abased himself in ways that would have shocked and horrified his former self, all because he believed that these humiliations would eventually earn him his turn in the White House. And now his president won’t endorse the idea of his running himself and his replacement is openly discussed by people in Trump’s orbit.

Why would Nikki Haley believe that Trump would treat her any differently? She isn’t stupid. And college-educated white women from the suburbs, who are fleeing the GOP in record numbers, aren’t either.

A.B. Stoddard

A.B. Stoddard is a columnist at The Bulwark. Previously, she was associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics.