On the issue of sexual assault, however, it appears Haley sees a place to take a stand. Diplomats I spoke with suggested that Haley, who is widely seen as having presidential ambitions, is seeking to position herself as a strong voice on women’s issues and distance herself from an administration with a messaging problem. “She is walking a fine line in positioning herself politically as an independent enough voice on these issues, abetted by her distance from D.C., as she can without alienating the Big Man—although given his unpredictability and volatility it is playing a bit with fire,” the senior State Department staffer said. Bruen noted similarities between Haley’s comments and moves by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, another rumored presidential hopeful, who led Democrats in calling for Al Franken’s resignation last week. “She clearly wanted to say it and obviously that raises the question of why,” Bruen said. “Gillibrand got kudos for telling someone from her own party to leave, and now she looks presidential. So maybe, that’s what Nikki was thinking.”

Haley’s shifting calculus may also be tied to the ongoing political intrigues within the State Department—an agency that Haley was said to covet, though she denied having her sights set on Tillerson’s job. As I reported at the end of November, it is now “all but a done deal” that C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo will be Tillerson’s successor, leaving Haley without an opportunity for advancement within the administration. Haley “is banking she isn’t going to be [in the] core Trump orbit” and made the calculation to signal that “she’s O.K. breaking with the Trump brand,” another State staffer told me. A third staffer agreed: “The discussion isn’t so much on her latest comments—bold as they were—but the daily machinations about the next [Secretary of State]. Much of the thought from career senior leaders is that she would be crazy to take the job.”