WASHINGTON – She had it all: A great personal story as a first-generation American, a likable personality, a solid political record, an uncommon ability to hit the ground running with ease and competence and a golden opportunity that made her a household name and earned her an international reputation.
Then she wrote a book – and blew it.
Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, sandblasted her carefully crafted facade and, in a transparent act of virtue signaling, stabbed two of her former colleagues and fellow Cabinet members between the shoulder blades. Her return to the public stage can best be described as a goddess ex machina, whereby she descended from the upper realms to dispense wisdom and hurl thunderbolts into the hearts of any who would deny her.
No one did. Haley and her just-released memoir, “With All Due Respect: Defending America With Grit and Grace,” have been the talk of the town. News shows have homed in on a single allegation that seems to have been designed to produce TV teasers about “shocking revelations” – that Rex Tillerson, former secretary of state, and John Kelly, former White House chief of staff and a retired Marine Corps general, had tried to undermine President Trump and asked Haley to help.
More to the political point, Haley essentially launched her next act, possibly as Donald Trump’s vice-presidential running mate (with all due respect to Mike Pence), or as a 2024 presidential candidate. Like clockwork, the president tweeted kudos and encouraged followers to buy the book.
Whatever her ultimate motive, Haley clearly decided that stepping on Tillerson and Kelly was in her political interest. There can have been no other reason to drag these two honorable, accomplished men through the mud for trying to mitigate some of Trump’s more-destructive impulses.
Rather than sign on, Haley claims to have been offended by this conspiracy of good intentions. In her book and in several recent television appearances, her halo blindingly bright, Haley has said that Kelly and Tillerson thought they were aiming to “save the country” by attempting end runs around Trump.
They wouldn’t have been the only ones, according to last year’s anonymous op-ed in The New York Times in which the author similarly claimed that White House staffers and officials have been trying to save the country by working within, sometimes against the president’s expressed wishes, which can change in a flash.
The resurfacing of these claims and the anonymous author’s new book could help explain why good men and women continue to enter this decidedly dysfunctional White House. Being inside the White House may be a better position from which to manage the beast within.
Do you ignore an immature president and take turns plugging the hole in the dike? (Hey, Haley we could use some help over here!) Or, do you do everything in your power to avoid actions that might cause the dike to crumble? One thing you don’t do, obviously, is confide in an unscrupulous, self-serving, future presidential candidate.
Haley’s loyalty to Trump at the expense of Tillerson and Kelly is both a hat-tip to Trump’s base and a curtsy to the president. She plainly made a political calculation that people would find “her truth” courageous and that flattery aimed at Trump would not be wasted. “To undermine a president is really a very dangerous thing, and it goes against the Constitution and it goes against what the American people want,” Haley intoned during a CBS News interview.
This would be true if said president weren’t almost daily threatening to destroy order in the civilized world and didn’t behave as though he were checking off the characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder.
It seems that Haley, whom I’ve admired since before she became governor, bought her own myth and sold it cheap. Through her preening virtue, she has revealed herself to be more Lucy from “Peanuts” than Erin Brockovich – a cartoonish fussbudget stumping for blue ribbons and bows rather than a whistleblower acting in the service of the greater good.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post.