There’s little question that he’s talking about Nikki Haley, right? Among his clues:
1. The suspect is a she, not a he.
2. The suspect has denied writing the piece.
3. The suspect isn’t in the White House but is high up.
4. The suspect believes she should be president.
5. The suspect is known to rant about Trump and has “purged” her staff of Trump loyalists.
The only person “high up” in the administration who fits the first four criteria is Haley. Trump’s other women agency heads — Kirstjen Nielsen, Betsy DeVos, Elaine Chao, Gina Haspel — have no political ambitions.
The fifth criterion is trickier, as I can’t remember reading about Haley badmouthing Trump privately or “purging” MAGA true believers from the UN diplomatic staff. The idea that she secretly hates him is plausible, though: Haley endorsed Rubio and then Ted Cruz in the 2016 primaries rather than POTUS; she criticized Trump on the trail; she’s pushed a traditional hawkish anti-Russia message at the UN, sometimes giving Trump fits in doing so; and she’s brought in anti-Trumpers like Jon Lerner to be her deputies. Trump may have offered her the UN job *because* of her disdain, in fact, inviting her inside the tent so that she wouldn’t spend four years attacking him from the outside. I’m unaware of any “purges” of Trump staffers that she’s undertaken (two aides did quit early last year but neither was a hardcore Trumper from what I can tell), but maybe what Caputo means by “purge” is simply that she’s stuck to hiring people like Lerner. She’s not getting rid of Trumpers so much as never staffing up with them to begin with.
If you missed this post over the weekend, read it now. Caputo’s not the only Trump ally with suspicions about Team Haley. I find it hard to believe that a pol as savvy as her would gamble her 2024 prospects on fragging the president, though, especially now that she’s taken the extraordinary step of publishing her own op-ed attacking the author. How would that benefit her politically? Any goodwill she’s built up with Republican populists by serving in Trump’s administration would evaporate instantly. Anti-Trump Republicans would find her backstabbing and insubordination gross and her decision to write a second op-ed attacking the author of the NYT op-ed piece downright creepy in its deceitfulness. I think it might end her political career. It’s more likely that a deputy like Lerner wrote the op-ed, whether at her behest or not, but that’s hard for me to swallow too. After all, Haley will be suspected of having conspired with the op-ed author if he/she is a member of her UN team; she might end up being fired by Trump for it, and even if she isn’t, populists will never believe her protestations of innocence. Would a loyal Haleyite like Lerner really risk his boss’s career by taking the extraordinary step of stabbing Trump in the back — anonymously — in the NYT’s pages without her consent? C’mon.
Paint me a picture, then. Under what scenario would it benefit Haley to have written the NYT piece? If, conceivably, it can get her closer to the presidency then maybe it was worth doing. Step one: Haley is revealed as the author. Step two: ???? Step three: Haley wins GOP nomination! Fill in step two for me. The only thing I can come up with is if she believes Trump is headed for some sort of meltdown so catastrophic that even Trumpers will look back at the NYT op-ed with hindsight and marvel at the wisdom and patriotism of the author, clamoring to make him/her their new leader. But that’s unimaginable. No matter what Mueller comes up with, no matter how many mistresses turn out to have been paid off, no matter how many weird, impetuous policy moves Trump is revealed to have recommended, most Trumpers will stick with him. In a best-case scenario for Haley, there’ll be few enough of them left by 2024 to stop her from winning the primaries, but even then the risk that they’ll stay home in the general election will pose a major problem for her. Knifing their hero in the back simply isn’t a normal forgive-and-forget political sin. She’s better off being a good soldier for Trump publicly, earning some grudging respect from Trumpers, while continuing to run her old-school hawkish GOP operation at the UN, earning her respect from the rest of the party.