Meh, I half-agree with him. Two-thirds, actually. The timing of yesterday’s announcement was and is “very suspect” since it came before the midterms and there appears to be no smoking-gun explanation for it. The closest thing to one is the fact that an ethics watchdog called for an investigation of Haley’s use of private jets owned by South Carolina businessmen two days ago. But there’s a timeline problem: Haley submitted her resignation to Trump on October 3. Did she know that opponents were sniffing around her travel habits before she quit? If not then obviously that isn’t the reason.
Bannon’s also certainly right that Haley is “ambitious as Lucifer.” I’m more standoffish about her than most righties seem to be because I tend to think of her as a centrist-y Ted Cruz, extremely ambitious and extremely calculating. But then I feel guilty for reacting standoffishly. I’m holding it against her and Cruz that … they’re good politicians? Haley’s much better at it than Cruz is, too. Cruz’s calculations are always too transparent and therefore reek of cynicism, and he’s apt to make major misjudgments about the nature of his own base. He thought he could out-conservative everyone on his way to the presidency in 2016, and then he thought he could put some distance between him and Trump when he refused to endorse him at the convention. Both were logical plays, both were badly wrong. Haley’s more nimble. She’s dogmatically conservative on policy, by and large, but when a big opportunity presents itself to grab people in the middle on a culture-war flashpoint, like with the Confederate flag debate a few years ago, she’ll take it. She’s anti-Trump enough to have criticized him sharply during the campaign but pro-Trump enough (or pro-career-advancement enough) to have gone to work for him. Haley covers her bases. It’s because she’s so calculating that Bannon’s hair is standing on end about her resignation, in fact. What is she up to? He knows that, like Cruz, she’s always up to something.
Where I don’t agree with him is his claim that Haley’s resignation was “horrific” or “stepped on” the Kavanaugh aftermath. A student of media like Bannon should know that Trump-era news cycles last around a half hour. A day later, Haley’s departure already feels like old news, replaced by the guessing game of who’ll succeed her, which will itself fade shortly. The fact that Haley’s resignation was held for nearly a week — before, during, and after the Kavanaugh confirmation vote — and miraculously didn’t leak also shows that she wasn’t out to elbow her way into the spotlight at all costs. She waited until the new justice was sworn in, knowing that quitting in the middle of the whole thing might have been read as a resignation in protest. Trump rewarded her with an Oval Office spotlight. It’ll be all but forgotten by tomorrow.
The reason Bannon’s theatrically irritated about the timing isn’t because he’s really irritated about the timing, I think. Rather, he sees Haley as a threat to catch on among Republican voters after Trump is gone and to steer the party back towards conservatism and away from Bannon-style populist-nationalism. (Anti-Trump righties love her for exactly that reason.) She’s conservative but also young, a woman, not white, not a hardline culture warrior — very much GOP 2.0 to all of the righties who see GOP 1.0 as outmoded, too reactionary, and doomed demographically. And she may have earned a few votes among Trump fans with her UN service over the past 18 months, making her even more of a threat. Bannon wants to uproot the idea that Haley was a team player for Trump before it really takes hold and helps her in 2024: She’s selfish. She always puts herself first. If she cared about Trump or the GOP, she’d have waited until after the midterms. This is “horrific.”
There’s another possibility. Maybe Bannon’s worried about Haley in 2020 instead?
“She would be a strong candidate,” [New Hampshire insider Tom] Rath said. “She’s got executive experience, running South Carolina reasonably well. Getting the Confederate Flag down from the state house will make it hard for the media to paint her as some racist right-winger.” Rath watched her campaign up close during the Mitt Romney 2012 campaign. “She was an enthusiastic campaigner,” he says.
Former NH state GOP chair Jennifer Horn goes even farther: “I take Ambassador Haley at her word when she says she is not considering a run for President in 2020. However, if she ran, I believe she would win.”
And back in April, MSNBC commentator and nominal Republican Joe Scarborough said “I think Nikki Haley would beat Donald Trump” in a primary. “I actually think if she ran in 2020 — and this is not me making trouble, it’s really not — I think if she ran in 2020 she would have a very good chance of being the first woman president of the United States.”
Scarborough doubled down on his 2020 theory about Haley this morning. I continue to believe there’s no scenario in which she would primary Trump under current conditions, but I suppose if a bombshell burst over the White House — if hard evidence emerged that Trump had committed a crime, say — then a primary challenge might not be quite the same career-ending liability it otherwise would be. Haley might have quit now merely to keep her options open in case Democrats take back the House and Mueller goes nuclear, leaving Trump so damaged by 2020 that even Republican voters end up wondering if a new nominee is their best chance to win. It’s extremely unlikely; the lesson of the Kavanaugh saga is that when a Republican is under siege, the wagons circle. But there’s a nonzero (i.e. less than one percent chance) of it happening. Which is probably why Trump granted her the unusual honor of a send-off in the Oval Office yesterday. That wasn’t just a photo op for Haley’s benefit, showcasing how important she was to the president. It was a photo op for Trump’s benefit. If she does get any ideas about challenging him, Trump media can roll that clip and use it as evidence of her treachery. Look how she praised Trump, and now she’s turned on him. What a snake she is.