Just who’s running the White House in the Donald Trump presidency? Nikki Haley’s new memoir claims that two of Trump’s subordinates thought it was their job to make policy decisions and cut off Trump from any direct exercise of power. Rex Tillerson and John Kelly tried to get Haley to cooperate with their efforts to seize the reins, Haley claims, as they argued that Trump was too incompetent to leave in charge:
Two of President Trump’s senior advisers undermined and ignored him in what they claimed was an effort to “save the country,” former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley claims in a new memoir.
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly sought to recruit her to work around and subvert Trump, but she refused, Haley writes in a new book, “With All Due Respect,” which also describes Tillerson as “exhausting” and imperious and Kelly as suspicious of her access to Trump.
“Kelly and Tillerson confided in me that when they resisted the president, they weren’t being insubordinate, they were trying to save the country,” Haley wrote.
“It was their decisions, not the president’s, that were in the best interests of America, they said. The president didn’t know what he was doing,” Haley wrote of the views the two men held.
Tillerson has yet to comment on the claim, while Kelly offered an indirect and incomplete denial. If supplying the president with the best advice “is ‘working against Trump,’ then guilty as charged,” Kelly told the Washington Post. It’s true that a chief of staff’s main role is gatekeeper, a function Trump needed badly after the first few months of his presidency, in order to dial down the chaos. And any White House chief of staff who does his job properly will end up being resented for interference, including by the president he or she serves, and probably especially with Trump.
There’s a big difference between that, though, and attempting a palace coup, which is what the Washington Post description of Haley’s memoirs describe. That might explain Tillerson’s departure, although that was anything but abrupt, and it was also anything but unexpected. Whether Trump had gotten wind of what Haley is now claiming is another question, but it’s worth noting that neither man works in the administration — and that the world hasn’t yet come to an end, either.
Although, one has to wonder whether the Ukraine mess would have happened if either man was still in place. Or Haley either, for that matter, who told the Post that it’s not impeachable but was still very unadvisable.
It’s tough to see an establishmentarian like Kelly conducting this kind of shadow presidency, though. New York Magazine’s Matt Stieb thinks this is a self-serving ploy for Haley in setting up a presidential run in 2024:
Establishing herself as a hero of the cantankerous administration, Haley has found her villains in former Chief of Staff John Kelly and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. She writes that the pair reached out to her in their efforts to help push back against Trump’s impetuous decision-making, which she frames as an effort to undermine the president. “Kelly and Tillerson confided in me that when they resisted the president, they weren’t being insubordinate, they were trying to save the country … It was their decisions, not the president’s, that were in the best interests of America, they said. The president didn’t know what he was doing.”
Though that last statement has been proven accurate on several occasions, Haley is critical of her fellow officials’ decision to slow-walk the president’s off-the-cuff ideas. According to the book, Tillerson also told Haley that people would die if Trump — who reportedly wanted to shoot migrants’ legs and threatened the “total destruction” of North Korea — was not curtailed. Condemning the idea of a built-in check on Trump should be a talking point that resonates for the presidential and larger Republican audiences, as her argument mirrors the popular, conspiratorial deep state critique that Trump himself has endorsed.
That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in 2019, though. That’s the kind of book you release in late 2022 or early 2023 to launch a presidential campaign. Sure, it will keep Haley in MAGA country’s good graces for now, but politics moves at lightning speed these days. If that was her true motivation, all Haley would need to do is to make these claims in occasional interviews and tease her memoir for the next three years.
The timing for Trump, on the other hand, couldn’t be better — even if it’s probably accidental. It takes months for books to get from final draft to print, which means Haley’s memoir was finished no later than this spring, long before any of the Ukraine-Gate issues arose. Trump can use Haley’s claims to argue that his presidency has been undermined by the Beltway political establishment all along, although neither Kelly nor especially Tillerson was part of it before Trump. This is the Deep State exposé that Trump has needed since the whistleblower came forward. Expect Trump to ride this horse until it drops.