Haley: Trump's bombast turned out to be pretty danged useful

Chalk another one up for the Madman Theory. Outgoing UN ambassador Nikki Haley told NBC’s Today that she and Donald Trump used his bombastic nature strategically in order to get what both wanted in international diplomacy. “I was trying to get the job done,” Haley says, in part by having Trump frighten her colleagues and especially our adversaries:

“He would ratchet up the rhetoric, and then I’d go back to the ambassadors and say: ‘You know, he’s pretty upset. I can’t promise you what he’s going to do or not, but I can tell you if we do these sanctions, it will keep him from going too far,'” Haley said in an exclusive interview which aired Wednesday morning.

“I know all of it,” she said in response to a question about the president’s bombastic, sometimes false statements in public and on Twitter. “But I’m disciplined enough to know not to get into the drama.”

At the United Nations, “I was trying to get the job done,” she said. “And I got the job done by being truthful, but also by letting him be unpredictable and not showing our cards.”

Haley’s interviewer interjects, “So you were playing good cop, bad cop?” At best that’s a clarifying question. Not only was that strategy rather obvious over the last couple of years, it was so obvious that it’s tough to tell just how effective it might have been. Richard Nixon used a similar strategy (at times) when it was called the Madman Theory, using an impression of impulsiveness bordering on mania that made everyone default to their instincts to appease. (Not everyone was a fan of that strategy, then or now.)

One can even cast it more simply as Trump’s Art of the Deal as applied to diplomacy. Make the other person think they won by containing Trump’s initial demands or his initial instincts when all Trump wanted was the concessions he ended up getting. That may not be the safest way to negotiate in an environment where actual madmen exist, but it was effective for Nixon at times, and Haley is arguing it was effective for Trump as well. Maybe so, but the extent to which this was an obvious strategy would tend to nullify it.

If it was as effective as Haley suggests, it raises the question as to whether Heather Nauert can work the same magic. Nikki Haley came into the job with her own political heft and credibility, which made her a credible counterweight to whatever “madness” she and Trump chose to project. If confirmed, Nauert might not be perceived as having that same level of strength and ability to check Trump, leaving allies and foes to either assume Trump is actually nuts or is entirely bluffing. Even that level of uncertainty might help Nauert out at times, as long as it doesn’t trigger someone to do something very, very bad. Nixon and his diplomatic corps were careful to keep that from happening. Will Nauert be able to do that?

Haley also told Today that she’s still not sure what she wants to do in the future except “sleeping in.” Five years is plenty of time to catch up on a sleep deficit, of course.