Even if she can’t imagine it, don’t expect Nikki Haley’s fellow Republicans to suffer from an imagination gap in the future. The current ambassador to the UN and former two-term governor of South Carolina told CNN last night that she harbors no presidential ambitions, even though everyone else seems to think she does:
“Everyone thinks that I’m ambitious, and everybody thinks I’m trying to run for something, and everybody thinks I want more,” Haley told CNN in an interview published Thursday night. “I can’t imagine running for the White House.”
Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, also denied being interested in becoming secretary of state or a senator. Her name is often raised in Republican circles as a potential future contender for the White House or other high-profile roles in government.
Well gee, why would anyone presume to think Haley has larger political ambitions? Let’s count the ways. Haley has been on an upward trajectory ever since 2005. At 45 years of age now, she’s been elected twice as governor of South Carolina, and yet set that office aside to become one of America’s top voices in international diplomacy. Before becoming governor, Haley served six years in the state legislature, starting at an age (33) when people tend to lock into the career of their choice. She’s not exactly compiling a resumé for corporate America, and there aren’t too many places in the upward direction in public service for her to aim.
Right now, the Republican Party has a number of talented politicians on the bench with one or two terms in gubernatorial positions, but many of them cratered in the 2016 primaries, and almost none of them have foreign-policy experience. Assuming Trump remains interested in a second term in 2020, Haley would be a leading contender in 2024 at just 52 years of age — and certainly the most qualified woman in the GOP to contend for the top of the ticket. If Trump bails in 2020, Mike Pence would probably get the nod, but Haley would make a powerful running mate if Pence decided to run, setting her up for a future presidential run of her own.
Of course, politicians cannot simply admit to having presidential ambitions. Even Trump had to frame his obvious interest before 2015 as a wait-and-see status for another candidate who would satisfy him. Haley’s following a long-standing tradition of public reticence, and needfully so. But even if she truthfully “can’t imagine” making a run for the White House, plenty of other Republicans will dream it up for her eventually.