Well this was a legitimate surprise to wake up to this morning. Axios was the first to report it:
President Trump has accepted Nikki Haley’s resignation as UN Ambassador, according to two sources briefed on their conversation. The timing of her departure is still unclear, the president promised a “big announcement” with her at 10:30 a.m.
What we’re hearing: Haley discussed her resignation with Trump last week when she visited him at the White House, these sources said. Her news shocked a number of senior foreign policy officials in the Trump administration.
Nikki Haley scrubbed both her Twitter and Instagram of any mentions of Trump. Before, it used to say she was ambassador to the United Nations, now it says nothing. Compare this to another former Trump official, Corey Lewandowski, who still has “Campaign Manager for Donald J. Trump for President 2016” in his Twitter profile, and Haley’s removal of her ties to Trump in her profile is notable in that it deviates from the norm of how people promote their former work on their social media profiles. However, drawing any further conclusions from that one action is a fool’s errand, and I’d encourage anyone thinking that this is the beginning of a 2020 primary challenge against Trump to get their head out of the clouds. Haley told reporters in the Oval Office “No, I’m not running in 2020,” and said she’ll be campaigning for Trump’s reelection in 2020. I mean, does this bootlicking sound like someone mounting a primary challenge?
This reality hasn't stopped some famed conservative “Never Trump” pundits from posting hilariously naïve takes.
Diplomacy and national security reporter for The Washington Post, John Hudson, detailed some tangible reasons why Haley may have left her post at the UN.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins also helped refresh our memories of the most serious public tension we've seen between Trump and Haley.
For what it's worth (read: next to nothing), the president said that Haley told him six months ago that at the end of her first two years, she'd want to take a break. Knowing Trump, this could easily mean that he was blindsided by Haley's departure and is now concocting a lie to make it sound like he had planned for this all along.
The reason why the “break” explanation doesn't make a whole lot of sense is that ambassadors to the UN need to be confirmed by congress, and that's not a simple process that you can just hop in and out of. Haley is well-liked enough in GOP circles where she may be able to quickly sail through the confirmation process and get her old job back, but that's not the way these things typically work. If you step down, you step down and the government goes through the arduous process of vetting the next candidate.
Now, speculation has begun that Haley will indeed return, but in a different role. Mike Murphy is a longtime GOP strategist and Jonathan V. Last is the digital editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, so this conjecture is coming from informed perspectives near the top of the GOP apparatus.
Trump even said that Haley can “have [her] pick” of a role if she comes back. Given the ugly fight the GOP just staged on Brett Kavanaugh, they must be thinking about how to win back women, and swapping Pence for Haley sure seems like an easy way to gain back some ground. Polls like the one yesterday from the Washington Post and Schar showing the GOP losing white college educated women by a whopping 27 points in the 69 house districts up for grabs this November are surely informing this speculation—and it’s important to point out that it’s just that: speculation.
Bottom line: no one can say for certain right now why Nikki Haley is leaving her post at the end of the year. In the Trump era, nothing can ever be completely ruled out, but a 2020 primary challenge would go against the cultish mentality that the Republican Party has demonstrated time and time again. The VP speculation is interesting, and it’s buoyed by Trump’s comments saying that she could come back to whatever job she wanted, but at the end of the day, that’s Haley’s decision to make, and she has clearly played this all incredibly close to the vest—as the only firm conclusion that we can reach right now is that this decision caught many people in the White House by surprise.
As Paste’s Shane Ryan noted, the Charleston, SC Post and Courier reported that Nikki Haley has debt that may total over $1 million, and that a move to the private sector (which she noted in her resignation letter as a “step up” from government) to help pay down that massive debt may be the best explanation for something that few to no people in the administration saw coming.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.