Reacting to rumors that she might run against Trump in the 2020 Republican primary, Haley said she was not interested in the office and promised to campaign for the president’s reelection.
Trump was effusive, too. “Nikki Haley, ambassador to the United Nations, has been very special to me,” he said. “She’s done an incredible job. She’s a fantastic person, very importantly, but she also is somebody that gets it.”
However, beneath the Haley-fellow-well-met routine, there’s been tension between the ambassador and the White House. Haley was an unknown quantity on foreign policy before her appointment, but she quickly won over much of the establishment with her Reaganite approach. Against Trump’s isolationist and retrenching influences, she has been hawkish and emphasized the importance of international alliances. Haley has been the administration’s most prominent critic of Russia, even as Trump tends to coddle Vladimir Putin.
Occasionally, these different alignments have created strain. The most prominent flare-up came in an April clash between Haley and the presidential economic adviser Larry Kudlow over trade policy. After Kudlow suggested she might have been mixed up, she fired back, “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”
For the most part, however, Haley has been more effective than many of the other so-called “adults” at maintaining a working relationship with Trump despite their differences. (Of course, it helped that Haley agrees with Trump on many issues. As my colleague Uri Friedman notes, she favored ripping up the Iran nuclear deal, pushed hard for sanctions on North Korea, and was a strong backer of Israel’s government.) Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who seemed to align with Haley, was frozen out for months before his March 2018 firing. Chief of Staff John Kelly is said to frequently clash with the president, whom he allegedly deemed an “idiot.” Mattis has avoided problems by simply staying very quiet, though he is also said to be frozen out.
The broader question is whether the “adults” have actually been very successful. Aides may have prevented the president from taking a number of rash, irrational actions, as Bob Woodward’s latest book, Fear, claims in vivid detail. The administration has proved more hawkish than originally advertised, a possible sign of Trump’s more conventional advisers working overtime. The president has not pulled out of NATO, nor has he withdrawn American soldiers from Syria or Afghanistan. He has bombed Syria in response to chemical-weapons strikes. But Trump has still steadily and inexorably worked at goals like protectionist trade policy. Relations with allies remain tenuous.
The world just laughed at Donald Trump.
Now, whether or not the “adults” had much effect while in the room, another wave of them seem to be headed for the exits. After Haley, it’s easy to imagine Mattis and Kelly leaving after the midterm elections. If Democrats take the House, much less the Senate, the administration could become an even less fun place to work, and the president might turn to foreign affairs to get things done—a common pivot for presidents who find Congress unobliging.
“We hate to lose you,” Trump told Haley. “Hopefully you’ll be coming back at some point, but maybe in a different capacity. You can have your pick.”
That seems unlikely. And as if in augur of what might happen with people like Haley out of his orbit, Trump became more and more meandering with his comments as the brief press availability ran on. Later this week, he’s scheduled to meet with Kanye West. The adults have surely left the building.