It's fitting that U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley's resignation Tuesday came on the heels of the president's insistence at Brett Kavanaugh's swearing-in that men are always to be trusted over women. He could have slapped an #IBelieveMen sticker on the podium.
Trump doesn’t just believe them, he likes them more than women, at least in positions of power. Since the foreign policy shake up this spring, Haley has been competing for influence with beefy, rumpled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom Trump likes so much better than the wimpy Rex Tillerson, who didn’t like the spotlight or his boss’s IQ. Pompeo is so much more fun at their frequent lunches than the super competent, non-obsequious Haley, who smiles but doesn't chuckle at his jokes.
The super-hawk John Bolton, who replaced the intellectual general H.R. McMaster, shares Trump’s instinct to rip up treaties and ask questions later. He welcomed the laughter of the U.N. during the president’s speech to the body last week. It means they’re doing everything right.
She exuded the message “don’t mess with Haley.” When a Trump adviser chided her for message “confusion” when she announced sanctions on Russia before the president made his final decision, Haley shot back: “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”
Being a shuttle flight away in New York, she avoided the chaos and the unattractive jockeying to stay in Trump’s good graces. In a column about the anonymous op-ed criticizing Trump, she said if she disagrees, she tells him to his face, and he listens.
I bet he does. Trump doesn’t like to lose a star and is accepting her resignation as if he’s reading from a teleprompter. Usually Trump fires by tweet, or proxy, or to change the subject, not after a successful week installing a new Supreme Court justice, and just weeks before the midterms. He likes to do it with a dollop of drama (James Comey), a touch of humiliation (Tillerson informed by John Kelly while the secretary was on the toilet in Africa), and a will-he-or-won’t-he with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his Deputy Rod Rosenstein. At least 30 people and counting have left, something of an indoor record at this time in an administration.
This one is different. She’s confident enough to say she needs a “break,” which coming from a less revered official would sound suspiciously like wanting to spend more time with family. Trump met with Haley in the Oval Office thanking her profusely and without making it all about himself.
Trump can’t risk Haley returning to pre-2016 days when she had nothing but derision for him. She’s a “fantastic person” who’s done “an incredible job” adding that she’d made the post more “glamorous,” perhaps in hopes that Ivanka will want it. There are short and long lists, both uninformed. If Trump had a suitable prospect willing to join the chaotic White House, he would have revealed it if only to remove any suspicion he was being broken up with.
Haley saved her kindest words for Jared, a “hidden genius,” not a compliment often directed his way. She also pre-answered “no” to whether she’d be running for Trump’s job. If running again, it would be for the Senate, since she’s already served as governor of South Carolina for eight years. Whatever she does, it may prove to be a better prelude for a presidential run which surely awaits her than her two years with Trump.
Haley stands as another example of how Trump's natural state is to diminish women, even a star like Haley, unless they fold like a wet rag in his presence. Trump simply prefers men in office, the badder the better, like the North Korean dictator who writes such beautiful letters, and his favorite despot, Vladimir Putin.
His remaining female cabinet members are more pliant than Haley. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao is super quiet, almost never speaking up unless it’s in defense of her husband Sen. Mitch McConnell. She’s just been the subject of an investigation by Politico, which found that she had an unheard of amount of “private time,” which means that many days she didn’t show up.
Education Secretary Betsy Devos has not recovered from her embarrassing confirmation hearing or informed herself since. Her two main accomplishments are dear to Trump’s heart: to bolster Trump University-like for-profit colleges that rip off aspiring students with massive debt and no job prospects. She also weakened protections for female victims of sexual assault on college campuses which needed adjustments but DeVos gave the reforms a Trump twist to reflect his belief that in the #MeToo age, it’s men that suffer most.
Haley nodded when Trump said she might come back in some other post at some later time, although her body language said she couldn’t wait to get out of there. Women wonder if the spectacle of crushing Christine Blasey Ford to the point of mocking her influenced Haley’s thinking. We’d like to think so, but we’ll never know. Haley keeps her own counsel. It’s why she’s the rare official to leave the Trump administration with dignity. At least for now.