You mean I wrote those 800 posts about Romney being in contention for the State job never knowing that he was Trump’s second choice?
Seriously, though, this is weird.
In Donald Trump’s first meeting with Nikki Haley, on November 17, he asked her to serve as his secretary of state. Haley turned him down, according to two sources familiar with the conversation, telling the president-elect that she lacked the requisite foreign policy experience for the job.
The former South Carolina governor wound up instead as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — the first to enjoy Cabinet rank in a Republican administration since Jeane Kirkpatrick during Ronald Reagan’s first term. And with Rex Tillerson conducting his job almost entirely out of public view, Haley has improbably eclipsed the secretary of state as the country’s leading voice on foreign affairs…
“I think in her mind, the key issue that would normally exist — her relationship with the secretary of state — does not exist. She thinks she’s operating completely independently of him,” said a George W. Bush-era State Department official.
Offering Haley the biggest job in world diplomacy when she had no foreign policy credentials to speak of? Even she thought that was weird. But the weirdness doesn’t end there. Haley endorsed Rubio in the Republican primary, then endorsed Cruz over Trump after Rubio dropped out. And she went after Trump in her SOTU rebuttal last year (albeit not by name), 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.” Haley’s political brand, like Rubio’s, was a new, younger, more diverse GOP; removing the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds after the Charleston massacre was a showcase for it. Trump’s brand was older, whiter, and politically incorrect (although he did agree with Haley about the flag). They’re an odd match. And remember, Trump reportedly blocked Elliott Abrams from becoming number two at State because he wrote an op-ed critical of Trump during the campaign — yet his VP endorsed Cruz before the Indiana primary, he seriously considered a vicious critic like Romney for the State job, and apparently he offered the position to another critic in Haley less than 10 days removed from his victory. How does any of that add up?
There were strategic reasons for adding Haley to the administration, as Ben Shapiro noted at the time. Trump brought a potentially potent critic from within his own party inside the tent; he made himself look generous and open-minded in forgiving Haley for her previous criticism; and, not coincidentally, he cleared a path for Henry McMaster, Haley’s lieutenant governor in South Carolina and a Trump ally, to move on up to the top spot. None of that, though, explains why he would eye her for Secretary of State, specifically. Why not Labor secretary or some other domestic position touching on issues Haley actually had some experience with? It’s possible that she told him, a la Rudy Giuliani, that she was interested in a diplomatic spot and nothing else (possibly with an eye to expanding her resume before she runs for president sometime in the future), but Trump would have been well within his rights to laugh that off given her lack of experience. Surely he wasn’t so afraid of Haley being a thorn in his side if she remained as governor of South Carolina that he’d scramble to give her any job in his administration that she wanted.
I think the best explanation is that … Trump just doesn’t care much about the State Department. He treated Secretary of State as a prestige position during his transition, interviewing candidates for weeks before settling on Rex Tillerson, but that might have been little more than manufactured drama for the sake of showmanship. When it came time to govern, he treated State as a lesser child. (If Defense is Ivanka, State is Eric and Donald Jr.) It was State that took a massive hit in Trump’s budget proposal to help free up more money for Defense. And it’s Rex Tillerson, more so than any other cabinet officer, who’s had huge chunks of his portfolio gobbled up by Jared Kushner. Kushner, not Tillerson, is informally in the lead on the Israeli/Palestinian peace process; it’s Kushner, not Tillerson, who’s acting as China’s pipeline to Trump; and WaPo has described Kushner, not Tillerson, as Trump’s “lead advisor” on Mexico and Canada. Apparently he’s going to the administration’s point man on Iraq too. He, not Tillerson, is de facto Secretary of State. (Many a Trump critic has noted on Twitter over the past week that conducting diplomacy through family members instead of official diplomats is typical of third-world regimes, not western democracies.) In hindsight, given how weak the State position ended up being, Haley was smart and/or lucky to opt for ambassador to the UN instead. It gives her a platform to make splashy pronouncements about being tough on Russia and strong in defense of Israel, which will serve her well in her future national run, and meanwhile she has no rival power center at State in Tillerson trying to rein her in and no standoff with Kushner over diplomatic duties.
That may also explain why Trump is fine with her criticizing Putin and Russia and generally behaving like a garden-variety Bush-era hawkish Republican. Surely everyone, including the Kremlin, understands by now that Trump and Kushner are running America’s foreign policy out of the Oval Office. Whatever Haley and Tillerson might say is sort of interesting but unimportant. They’re figureheads when push comes to shove. In which case, why wouldn’t Trump have offered a foreign policy newbie like her the State job in November? In fact, one source told Politico, “She’s perfectly positioned to inherit the State Department. She needs a year or two at the U.N. and then she will get the State Department.” She’s an excellent figurehead. Why wouldn’t Trump promote her once Tillerson gives up?