Trump and Haley held a quickly arranged media availability Tuesday morning in the White House, shortly after Axios Jonathan Swan of Axios broke the news of her impending exit. Haley said her resignation was simply about needing a break after six years as South Carolina governor and two at the U.N., and President Donald Trump said Haley had even previewed a desire to leave as long as six months ago.
The two were eager to downplay the idea that this was hasty. But if it wasn’t, that might make the timing even odder.
If this was long-planned, it was apparently the best-kept secret in Trump’s White House. The news reportedly blindsided those in the foreign policy establishment and even members of Haley’s staff.
Haley’s exit is due before the end of the year, which means she could be around for as many as 12 more weeks. But she and the White House chose to announce this just four weeks before the 2018 election? The White House is effectively announcing the exit of its most popular Cabinet-level official – the extremely rare one who has strong approval among both Republicans and Democrats – just before voters vote. If Haley’s exit isn’t imminent, why not wait till after the election so it doesn’t look like the administration is shedding one of its best-liked, steadying forces?
The breaking news also comes as Trump and Republicans appeared to be on the front foot when it comes to the aftermath of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation. Republican enthusiasm is up, and a poll late Monday even suggested that independents viewed Democrats’ actions surrounding Kavanaugh more dimly than Republicans’. The GOP had a clear interest in keeping things focused on Kavanaugh, yet the White House inserted this the morning after Kavanaugh’s ceremonial swearing-in.
Haley’s is also the first major administration exit since that anonymous New York Times op-ed in which a still-unknown “senior administration official” talked about how officials were working to check Trump’s impulses and even undermine him in certain ways. Haley’s name quickly rose to the top when it came to potential authors of the op-ed – given her well-established independence within the administration – but she issued perhaps the strongest rebuke of the author in an op-ed of her own.
The timing is also odd given a headline that popped up just a day before the announcement. A Washington watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), called for an investigation into her use of private travel on the government’s dime. We don’t know whether there is anything untoward going on, but resigning so shortly after that headline drops wouldn’t seem to be optimal – especially given that similar ethics allegations took down Cabinet officials such as Tom Price and Scott Pruitt.
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., raised that story with MSNBC shortly after Haley’s resignation. Sanford, a fellow former South Carolina governor who has been allies with Haley in the past but is now an administration critic, said of the story: “Something doesn’t smell right. Something’s weird.”
Sanford’s speculation could just be Sanford being Sanford – he’s one of the most quixotic politicians in the country – but it’s not unreasonable to wonder what’s going on. So much is unknown. About the only reason for the timing we can rule out at this point is that this is all about 2020. Haley in her availability with Trump said she won’t run against Trump and will instead campaign for him. She also offered glowing praise for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, calling the latter a “hidden genius.”