Trump/Haley 2020? Let's not get carried away

Talk about pulling the trigger prematurely. Our friend Matt Lewis has a provocative column at the Daily Beast this week in which he skips past many of the questions awaiting answers over the next year or so and offers a rather radical suggestion. Perhaps President Trump should make a preemptive move to shore up his re-election prospects by dumping Mike Pence from the ticket and running with former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley as his prospective Vice President.

So how does Lewis arrive at such a radical change of course? He begins with a not entirely unjustified assessment of the midterms and some of the more dismal smoke signals seen in the results. The collapse of Trump’s support among suburban women is tough to deny. Combine that with the losses seen across the Rust Belt, particularly in places like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and you have a formula for the Trump magic possibly not repeating itself in 2020.

If that’s the case and the President is reading the tea leaves in the same fashion, perhaps he’s already considering such a strategy. But who do you replace Mike Pence with? Matt first dabbles with the idea of some sort of Midwest firewall like Mike DeWine. But then he gets down to the business of suggesting Nikki Haley.

A better move, in my opinion, would be Nikki Haley.

A former governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the United Nations, Haley is certainly qualified. What is more, she would reassure Reagan conservatives (who would be excited to see her as the 2024 heir apparent) and could simultaneously appeal to suburban soccer moms. In this era of identity politics, Trump might relish the idea that he ultimately elevated the first woman (an Indian-American, to boot) to the vice presidency.

In light of the midterm election results, Trump should want to make some sort of strategic change.

This is all just a thought experiment for the moment, as Lewis freely admits. But is it even worth considering? I believe there’s a certain appeal for conservatives in the idea of seeing Haley in the executive branch. She’s one of the most promising Republican politicians on the radar these days, despite being currently out of public life. The thought of the first female president coming from the Republican Party and bringing that level of diversity to the GOP obviously has its appeal. Heck, I’ve frequently commented about what a great president she will make and I was only half-joking about it.

But the mechanics of getting from Point A to Point B in such a maneuver are daunting. First of all, on what grounds does one dismiss Mike Pence? He’s been the most loyal foot soldier President Trump has had from day one, even beyond the loyalty displayed by Scott Pruitt. He’s had no significant stumbles in the various diplomatic assignments he’s undertaken. He’s been a rock of stability in an otherwise frequently chaotic administration. Pushing him out the door (particularly when Pence still has future political aspirations of his own) would not be a good look for the President. And why would Pence voluntarily exit?

The other half of the question is whether or not Nikki Haley would even want the job. Sure, she’s been invited to come back any time she wants and pick her own office, but I get the feeling this isn’t what she had in mind unless Trump had already secured a second term. If Trump’s prospects are actually so dismal that he needs to make this sort of drastic move, why would Haley sign on as Executive Officer on a ship where the Captain clearly thinks they’re heading for an iceberg?

If Nikki Haley bides her time and re-enters the political field with an eye toward 2024, it doesn’t really matter whether she would be running to replace Trump or some Democratic winner from 2020. She’d be an early favorite in the primary and she bowed out with very solid approval numbers. But making a run with Trump which goes up in flames would add a new, less palatable chapter to her story, with a big mark in the Loss column.

While I appreciate Matt’s fun speculation and I’m admittedly excited about the possibility of a Nikki Haley presidency down the line, this sounds ill-conceived. If Donald Trump gets desperate enough to dump Mike Pence at some point over the next 18 months, I’m not sure I’d advise anyone to put in an application as his replacement unless they were prepared to take it as their last public office before retirement.

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David Strom 3:06 PM on March 28, 2023