Of the many senior officials to leave the Trump administration over the past two years, few have exited on better terms than former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley. Before her December departure, President Donald Trump feted Haley with an Oval Office photo op and declared that his U.N. diplomat “has been very special to me.”
And while many former Trump officials, from former White House chief of staff John Kelly to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former Defense Secretary James Mattis, have kept a low profile in the private sector, Haley is charting a different course. She is emerging as a fundraiser and surrogate for 2020 Republican Senate candidates, and next month will begin zigzagging across the country to campaign for a trio of GOP senators.
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By remaining a loyal Republican soldier on good terms with the president — a forthcoming memoir is not expected to join the ranks of cutting insider tell-alls — Haley is also something of a test case for independent political life after Trump.
The former South Carolina governor’s summer itinerary includes a June 15 stop in Boone, Iowa, where Haley will help Sen. Joni Ernst launch her re-election campaign at Ernst’s annual Roast ’n Ride event, where Iowans are slated to grill up over 2,000 pounds of pork. Given its location in a key presidential caucus state, the event is sure to spark murmurs about Haley’s own political ambitions, including the prospect of a 2024 presidential bid.
She has already begun to re-emerge on the public stage, including with remarks Thursday before an economic club in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she echoed Trump’s recent warnings that socialism threatens the U.S. — a message likely to be a key Trump 2020 campaign theme. Though they have not set a firm date, Haley has spoken with senior adviser Jared Kushner and the president himself about joining him on the campaign trail in 2020, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
“Capitalism is the greatest force for ending poverty and lifting up human beings in history,” Haley said. “America’s dangerous flirtation with socialism is in colleges, in the media and in Congress. We have an obligation to remind everyone that if you care about global poverty, you should support capitalism.” She will also deliver the keynote address at the Susan B. Anthony Foundation’s annual gala on Monday.
“She is one of the few female superstars in the Republican party and our party needs more conservative women,” said Corry Bliss, a Republican consultant who previously served as the executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC dedicated to winning Republican House seats. “As far as the base is concerned, she stood with Trump, and that’s all they care about.”
While a bevy of Republicans are contemplating how to position themselves for the post-Trump era, Haley is the first to begin the process of redefining herself outside the president’s shadow. This fall, she will publish a book, “With All Due Respect,” offering her reflections on “major national and international matters,” according to the publisher’s website. The book will cast her as a decidedly non-Trumpian figure: that is, “a leader who seeks to bring Americans together in divisive times.” Yet there is no sign she will use the book to criticize Trump — even as she casts herself as a different sort of leader.
Haley was never a Trump true believer. During the 2016 GOP primaries she initially supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. And for all Trump’s praise when she left the administration, Haley left some raw feelings at the State Department and the White House because of her insistence on maintaining her independence, particularly in the form of barbed statements about Russia at a time when Trump was looking to improve relations with Moscow. Never openly critical of Trump, Haley also didn’t shy from asserting herself either. Indeed, her book title is an in-your-face reference to an April 2018 episode in which Haley publicly announced plans for new U.S. sanctions on Russia, only for a White House official to suggest she had suffered “momentary confusion” and that the president had not yet made up his mind. “With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” Haley replied.
Haley, 47, was seen as a rising GOP star before Trump’s election, which was widely considered a rejection of the more inclusive version of the GOP she championed as the two-term government of South Carolina. She was critical of Trump during the Republican primary, tacitly criticizing him in her nationally-televised response to President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address, and endorsed Marco Rubio.
“I think she’s one of the most effective surrogates we have in the party. Time in the trump administration gives her credibility with the more conservative elements of the party but she can also showcase diversity,” said Matt Gorman, the former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
During the 2018 midterms, a handful of women in the Trump administration, including White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, were amongst the most popular surrogates on the campaign trail in the 2018 midterms, and National Republican Senatorial Committee aides predicted the same would be true in 2020.
Until now, much of the flesh-pressing and fundraising Haley has undertaken since leaving office has taken place behind closed doors. Last week, for example, Haley helped raise approximately $500,000 for four female GOP senate candidates — Martha McSally of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia, and Iowa’s Ernst — at a New York City fundraiser hosted by Annie Dickerson, a longtime Republican fundraiser and the founder of the GOP aligned political action committee Winning for Women, according to source familiar with the event.
That sort of work will take a public turn starting early next month with a spate of political events starting June 10, when she will help kick off Capito’s re-election campaign in Charleston, W.V.
She has also been asked to campaign alongside Republican candidates who might be more reticent to stump with the president, including Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, widely considered the most vulnerable of the 2020 cycle. The president’s approval rating in the state is underwater by 13 points, according to an April poll conducted by Morning Consult. Gardner, who was traveling internationally in connection with his position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was not present Thursday when Trump visited Colorado to deliver remarks at the Air Force Academy’s commencement ceremony.
Gardner campaign spokesman Cosey Contres said the campaign invited Haley to Colorado because of “her focus on bringing people together” — something few voters, Republican or Democrat, would say about Trump. “Every day Cory is trying to find ways to bring people together, and she played a similar role on the world stage,” Contres said.
Since her departure from the Trump administration in December, Haley has balanced the humdrum of post-political life with the forward-looking calculations of somebody who may run for president in the future.
Aside from book writing, she is delivering a bevy of paid speeches — a CNBC report indicated her fee is as high as $200,000 and that she has requested the use of a private jet. She founded an issue-advocacy group, Stand for America, in late February, and joined the board of Boeing, the besieged aerospace giant, earlier this month.