The tweet itself is less interesting than the fact that certain tapped-in reporters seem to find it interesting.
I hadn’t heard a word lately about ye olde “Will Trump replace Pence on the ticket with Haley?” rumors. Neither had others on Twitter, leading to speculation that Haley was slyly trying to jump-start that conversation by raising the idea with this tweet.
You know who has heard those rumors lately, though? People who spend their lives talking to White House sources on background.
Certain key White House aides know exactly what this is about.
Haley almost begging reporters to explain the “rumors.” https://t.co/Eb5ttfm40y
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) August 21, 2019
That tweet got my spidey sense tingling, as Jacobs is Bloomberg’s top reporter at the White House. Then came this:
Interesting >>> https://t.co/EqeovxbQOs
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) August 21, 2019
Wondering about that @NikkiHaley tweet? Here's this @katierogers and me piece from * Nov 2018 * about Trump asking people about Pence's loyalty (i.e. whether he should stay on the ticket) https://t.co/wXuwZR7vl7
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) August 21, 2019
Haberman is the Times’s star White House reporter. Clearly she and Jacobs are hearing chatter from inside the building lately about a Haley-for-Pence swap. That would also explain why Pence’s standing was raised with POTUS himself a few days ago, seemingly out of the blue:
President Donald Trump said Sunday he was “very happy” with Vice President Mike Pence and planned to keep him as his running mate in the 2020 election.
“I think Mike Pence has been an outstanding VP,” Trump told reporters in New Jersey shortly before boarding Air Force One. “I think that he has been incredible in terms of the love that a lot of people, especially if you look at the evangelicals and so many the others, they really have a great respect for the vice president, and so do I. And so do I think most people.”…
“A lot of the people, amazingly, they bring different names up and they brought a lot of different names,” Trump said. “That’s, by the way, standard. That’s standard. Everybody thought that President Obama was going to change Biden. They thought second term, he was going to change that. Everybody thought that, but he didn’t do that. But no, I’m very happy with Mike Pence.”
That’s nice, but it reminds me of one of Anthony Scaramucci’s choicer quotes about Trump lately: “[I]f you and I were in his field of vision and he had a cold and the two of us had to die for him to get a Kleenex, you’re f***ing dead.” Trump looks out for number one, always and everywhere. Whatever warm feelings he may have about Mike Pence, if he becomes convinced that his chances at a second term would improve by taking Pence off the ticket, Pence is f***ing dead.
And taking him off the ticket probably would improve Trump’s chances — very marginally. Pence was Trump’s gateway to evangelicals in 2016, the ultimate endorsement for any Christian voters who were skeptical of his character. If Trump was sufficiently committed to the evangelical agenda to make Mike Pence his number two then surely he deserved their votes, whatever their moral misgivings about him personally. Trump doesn’t need to signal that anymore, though. Evangelicals love him at least as much as they do Pence himself. Meanwhile, Trump is facing a rout among women voters next fall, particularly the better-educated women who populate the suburbs. Obvious solution: Replace Pence with the first Indian-American woman to govern a U.S. state, a person who made her mark in South Carolina leading the charge to remove the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds after the massacre in Charleston. Naming Haley VP would be insta-outreach to women, minorities, and moderates, and would help deflect allegations that Trump is racist.
But virtually no one votes based on who the VP nominee is. Even by usual presidential standards, Trump is so polarizing and dominates America’s political scene so completely that it’s absurd to imagine an undecided voter deciding whether to give him another four years based on Haley’s inclusion on the ticket. If it makes you nervous to hear the president chattering about Jews being disloyal to Israel or provoking a diplomatic crisis over his fantasy of buying Greenland, having Nikki Haley in the Situation Room won’t make you feel better. Meanwhile, I suspect Haley would rather chew glass than land on a ticket with Trump. She’s already done her good-soldier duty to the party and to Trump fans by serving as UN ambassador. She doesn’t want to bear any part of the blame if he gets thumped next November, and even if he wins, she’d be forced to run for president in 2024 with her party having just finished two consecutive terms in the White House, which almost always means victory for the out-party. Haley’s strategy is to occasionally signal loyalty to Trump, campaigning for him next fall as needed, in order to stay in the good graces of populists but otherwise to keep him at arm’s length and hope he loses next year so that she can lead a “new GOP” to victory in 2024.
Whether she’d feel entitled to tell Trump “nope” if he asked her to be VP is a separate question, though. Party leaders would demand it if they thought she could help him to victory and might hold it against her if she refused. Trump might even scapegoat her if the Trump/Pence ticket lost narrowly because she declined to join the ticket. Hence today’s tweet: The more she can bolster Pence’s support publicly, the less of a chance there is that she’ll be pressured to take the VP nomination. We’ll see what the media has to say about all of this tomorrow.