Attacks on Russia. Soccer games with refugees. Lively chats about human rights with Bono.
Browse through Nikki Haley’s Twitter feed long enough and you’d be forgiven for forgetting she’s a powerful and high-ranking official in the Trump administration, where the president pointedly refuses to do the first one of those and would consider the last two to be political suicide.
President Trump selected Haley early on in the formation of his Cabinet, settling on her as his ambassador to the United Nations before picking Rex Tillerson for secretary of state or James Mattis for secretary of defense. But she was a surprising pick then, and remains so today.
A popular twice-elected governor of South Carolina, she’s an experienced GOP politician in an administration packed with outsiders. As the daughter of Indian immigrants, she stands out in an administration run chiefly by white men. Telegenic and poised, she has a knack for the limelight that stands in sharp contrast to the administration’s tendencies toward the rumpled (former press secretary Sean Spicer) or reclusive (Tillerson).
But in her first seven months at the helm of the US mission to the UN, Haley’s differences have gone far beyond optics. Trump campaigned on a foreign policy platform of “America first” — the idea that the US should avoid getting involved in unnecessary conflicts overseas and focus narrowly on national security interests over promotion of democracy and human rights abroad.
But Haley has pursued the opposite course. From her stern criticism of Moscow to her championing of human rights to her calls for Syrian regime change, she’s routinely diverged from, or outright contradicted, Trump’s stance on the biggest foreign policy issues of the day.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the most hawkish Republican senators in Washington, told the New York Times recently, “She sounds more like me than Trump.”
Haley’s stances may reflect more than just policy differences. Many in the GOP worry that Trump may not survive four years and that those who’ve served in his administration may be tainted by association if he resigns or is impeached. Haley appears to be one of the few administration officials with the potential to survive the Trump years — and could be positioning herself for a presidential campaign of her own.
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