Nikki Haley Can't Back Off Trump Now

Nikki Haley wants to be president. The former Governor of South Carolina and U.N. ambassador admitted as much to POLITICO’s Tim Alberta in a feature published today. It’s a long piece about how Haley’s Faustian bargain with Donald Trump hasn’t expired, and that in the post-Captiol riot world, she can’t simultaneously reap the benefits of federal government experience and wash off the stink of working for Trump. It’s not a completely rehabilitative piece of journalism, but based on a few choice quotes, it’s clear Haley wishes it was.

Haley, who made sure to position herself as the adult in the room amongst Trump’s cabinet crazies, is clearly a calculated person. Alberta notes how she was able to separate herself from other pro-Trump Republicans, occasionally criticizing the president and never letting it damage her reputation too much.

She was regularly lauded by the media as one of the only responsible and reasonable members of the Trump administration—praise she’d easily be able to parlay into a 2024 presidential run. She’s able to optically straddle the line between Trump loyalty and mainstream political acceptability.

But Haley’s ability to posture doesn’t leave her with a “choice” as Alberta describes it. As journalist Elon Green pointed out, Haley essentially chose a side by parroting Trump’s claims of voter fraud, even if she half-stepped it under the guise of “transparency.”

She’s apologized for Trump repeatedly, recently implying that he was the victim of the Capitol riot. Haley also appeared at his nonsensical Republican National Convention on the same night that Kimberly Guilfoyle screamed at no one in particular. She might not want to associate herself with the kookier figures in Trump’s orbit or appear on stage with them at the same time, but it doesn’t matter—no matter how often media types portray her as some sort of reasonable alternative to Trumpism, her allegiance has already been pledged.

Alberta frames his piece as a kind of ultimatum for Haley. She can either be the responsible anti-Trump Republican remaking the GOP or the undyingly loyal servant to the president and his base—not both. But giving her credit for straddling the line in the first place allows her to be both. It elevates her as an exceedingly skilled stateswoman with a reasonable perspective even though she’s gone back to the Trump well time and again.

The only side Nikki Haley is on is her own, and she sycophantically used Trump to advance her personal interests. There’s no going back from that. Her choice has already been made.