Nikki Haley: The new national security team will "educate" Trump on what we know

She catches herself immediately after she uses the word “educate” and specifies that the team will “inform” him, a more neutral term that calls to mind a traditional cabinet briefing. But watch the clip below. Some of her other answers hint at the fact that she imagines a sort of ideological conversion eventually taking place.

“He had made comments about the U.N. but those are not my feelings,” said South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

More broadly, Haley differed sharply with Trump on a range of foreign policy issues, continuing a trend among the president-elect’s nominees for top military and diplomatic posts…

“I think NATO is an important alliance for us to have,” Haley said. “I think it’s one we need to strengthen.”…

Haley gave a general disavowal of Trump statements she disagrees with.

“Any comments that the president-elect has made, those are his comments,” she noted…

“Once the president-elect gets to hear from his national security team, I think what he says after that will be most important,” she told Murphy. “And I think those are the focuses that we are going to have with the national security council and making sure that we educate and inform him of what we know … and go along with whatever decision he decides to make.”

“I think that as we continue to talk to him about these alliances and how they can be helpful,” she says of NATO and the UN at 2:00 of the clip, “I do anticipate that he will listen to all of us and hopefully that we can get him to see it the way we see it.” That’s … an odd thing for a cabinet nominee to say about her soon-to-be boss. She praises Trump at the end of the clip for being willing to listen to dissenting opinions among his advisors, which is fine and fair, but it’s one thing to try to persuade the president that a particular course of action in, say, Syria is better than another and it’s another thing to try to persuade him that NATO and the UN are useful institutions. It’s the same strange dynamic I noted during Mattis’s confirmation hearing. Disagreement within a cabinet is to be expected and even commended for how it sharpens the body’s collective thinking, but the idea that you’re going in there having to convert the president to a different worldview as a first step — don’t put much stock in what he says ’til he hears from his natsec team, Haley warns — is weird. Typically the cabinet is chosen from people who already share the president’s worldview, right?

Remember too that Haley endorsed Marco Rubio, the hawkiest hawk in the field last year, before the South Carolina primary. No surprise then that the greatest distance between Haley and Trump today was on Russia:

On Russia, Haley said, “I don’t think that we can trust them.”…

Haley insisted that the U.S. cannot send the message that it is comfortable with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. When pressed by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), Haley also said she believes that Crimea is a part of Ukraine — a repudiation of Russia’s annexation of the region. Haley agreed that the Syrian regime’s actions, backed by Russia, constituted “genocide.” She also said “Yes, I do,” when asked if Russia had committed war crimes in Aleppo, the besieged northern Syrian city.

When Trump was asked about Crimea last year, he wouldn’t commit to recognizing Russian hegemony over the peninsula but he did pointedly note that “the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were,” one of the Kremlin’s key talking points in justifying the invasion of 2014. Meanwhile, you’ve got Haley all but calling Putin a war criminal. Granted, she didn’t rule out lifting sanctions on Russia, but how could she? It’s plain to everyone that that’s on the table, if not a done deal already between Team Trump and Moscow. She’s not going to tell the Senate that it won’t happen when clearly it might. But it’s also clear that a President Haley — or a President Mattis — would be much, much more reluctant to end sanctions than Trump would. (Although maybe not a President Tillerson.)

Consider this a sneak preview, then, of the key question of the first few months of the Trump administration: Who really runs foreign policy? Will it be Mike Flynn and Tillerson, or will it be Mattis, Haley, Pompeo, and the hawks in the cabinet? I know how I’m betting, and it ain’t on Haley.