Be­ware, Nikki Ha­ley may be Repub­li­cans’ fu­ture

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - Hus­sein Ibish is a se­nior res­i­dent scholar at the Arab Gulf States In­sti­tute in Wash­ing­ton HUS­SEIN IBISH

At the out­set of the Don­ald Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, it seemed his most likely suc­ces­sor was his vice pres­i­dent, Mike Pence. How­ever, it quickly be­came ap­par­ent that his UN am­bas­sador, Nikki Ha­ley, who re­signed last week, was at least as plau­si­ble.

She has used the UN post with con­sum­mate skill to pro­mote her­self as a na­tional leader on the Amer­i­can right. In­deed, Mr Trump passed her over for Sec­re­tary of State in part be­cause she had be­come too prom­i­nent and pop­u­lar.

Ms Ha­ley and Mr Pence are both for­mer gov­er­nors, and hence con­sid­ered well-qual­i­fied for the pres­i­dency.

How­ever, Ms Ha­ley has dis­tin­guished her­self re­peat­edly from Mr Trump, in­clud­ing im­plic­itly crit­i­cis­ing him and ro­bustly push­ing back against his im­plied crit­i­cisms of her.

Mr Pence, by con­trast, has basked in Mr Trump’s shadow. He is no­to­ri­ous for syco­phan­ti­cally prais­ing Mr Trump and gaz­ing at him with the puppy-eyed ado­ra­tion Nancy Rea­gan re­served for her hus­band Ron­ald.

It is not clear when Ms Ha­ley de­cided to re­sign, but there was vir­tu­ally no ad­vance warn­ing from a White House that usu­ally leaks like a bro­ken bucket. But, what­ever the prox­i­mate cause was, the ob­vi­ous un­der­ly­ing re­al­ity is that Ms Ha­ley is po­si­tion­ing her­self for a pres­i­den­tial bid.

If Mr Trump con­tin­ues to en­joy rel­a­tive good for­tune and vir­tu­ally un­chal­lenged sup­port among Repub­li­cans, she will have to wait un­til 2024, when she will be just 52 years old. But, by leav­ing now, she is re­serv­ing the op­tion of a 2020 bid, should one or more of the nu­mer­ous po­ten­tial crises on the hori­zon do for Mr Trump.

Leav­ing now is es­sen­tial to pre­serv­ing her vi­a­bil­ity as an al­ter­na­tive to Mr Trump, should he be­come em­bat­tled and weak­ened.

She would pose as a uni­fier in a post-Trump Repub­li­can Party, able to ap­peal si­mul­ta­ne­ously to the “Amer­ica first” con­stituency, be­cause of her loyal ser­vice to his ad­min­is­tra­tion; to hawk­ish neo­con­ser­va­tives whose in­ter­na­tion­al­ist and en­gaged for­eign poli­cies she has sup­ported; and evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians oth­er­wise aligned with Mr Pence whom she has courted her en­tire ca­reer, be­gin­ning with a re­li­gious con­ver­sion to Methodist Chris­tian­ity.

Ms Ha­ley’s ap­peal will be con­sid­er­able. Not only will she po­ten­tially be able to bring to­gether the Trumpian, neo­con­ser­va­tive and evan­gel­i­cal con­stituen­cies, she’s also a po­ten­tially cru­cial sym­bol of di­ver­sity for a Repub­li­can Party now crip­plingly iden­ti­fied mainly with older, white men.

She is a rel­a­tively young woman of colour, an In­dian-Amer­i­can of Sikh ori­gin, and hence an im­por­tant sym­bolic cor­rec­tive to the Repub­li­can Party’s stronger-than-ever iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with older white males in a di­verse so­ci­ety.

Amer­i­cans gen­er­ally look for a change af­ter four or eight years, whether or not they’re switch­ing par­ties, so Repub­li­cans prob­a­bly need a strik­ing con­trast to Mr Trump to have a fight­ing chance af­ter he goes.

And Amer­i­cans may not rel­ish fol­low­ing a white-na­tion­al­ist Pres­i­dent Trump with a Chris­tian-na­tion­al­ist Pres­i­dent Pence, thus switch­ing from eth­nic to re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance. Mr Pence’s Chris­tian fun­da­men­tal­ism is very dif­fer­ent to, and may be much less widely ap­peal­ing than, Mr Trump’s white eth­nic chau­vin­ism.

Ms Ha­ley’s record on the Mid­dle East is mixed but dis­turb­ing. Gulf au­di­ences ap­plauded her tough stance against Iran. In par­tic­u­lar, she made the vi­tal case that Iran is sup­ply­ing the Houthis with the mis­siles be­ing fired at Saudi cities.

Un­for­tu­nately, one way she used the UN post to fur­ther her po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions was by con­sis­tently and mer­ci­lessly bash­ing Pales­tini­ans. That pan­dered, at no po­lit­i­cal cost, to hawk­ish, neo­con­ser­va­tive, evan­gel­i­cal and Is­lam­o­pho­bic au­di­ences.

Ms Ha­ley scan­dalously blocked the ap­point­ment of for­mer Pales­tinian Prime Min­is­ter Salam Fayyad as the UN spe­cial en­voy to Libya, sim­ply be­cause of his Pales­tinian iden­tity.

She strongly backed all of Mr Trump’s end­less, vi­cious anti-Pales­tinian ac­tions, in­clud­ing recog­nis­ing Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of Is­rael and mov­ing the US Em­bassy there, and slash­ing fund­ing for Pales­tinian refugees

But the Pales­tinian view that Ms Ha­ley was “the worst ever” Amer­i­can UN am­bas­sador may not last long if the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton plays a key role in choos­ing her suc­ces­sor. Mr Bolton will try to en­sure that, un­like Ms Ha­ley, Wash­ing­ton’s next UN am­bas­sador is a rel­a­tively ju­nior fig­ure aligned with him. In­deed, if he can, Mr Bolton will even de­prive her suc­ces­sor of full cabi­net-mem­ber rank, which would both en­sure his pri­macy and fur­ther den­i­grate the UN’s role.

But all of that would only un­der­line how ef­fec­tively Ms Ha­ley has used her UN post to trans­form her­self into a ma­jor na­tional and in­ter­na­tional fig­ure, and be­come ex­tremely pop­u­lar with the Amer­i­can right.

Even many “Never Trump” con­ser­va­tives are be­moan­ing her de­par­ture and laud­ing her as one of the last of the “grown-ups” in Mr Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

She did help keep the US in­ter­na­tion­ally en­gaged, but of­ten in an ex­tremely de­struc­tive man­ner. And she never chal­lenged Mr Trump’s white na­tion­al­ism or, as De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis has, fought for bet­ter poli­cies within her own re­mit. To the con­trary, Mr Trump and Ms Ha­ley gen­er­ally seem to have brought out the worst in each other.

Nonethe­less, she is now, more than ever, the clear heir ap­par­ent, and even a po­ten­tial ri­val, to Mr Trump at the very top of the Repub­li­can party.

In the Mid­dle East, she is widely seen as the worst ever US am­bas­sador to the UN, but that will not harm her fu­ture one bit

EPA

Ha­ley has po­si­tioned her­self as a vi­able al­ter­na­tive to Trump

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