Nikki Haley, the first female governor of South Carolina, has a book out this week. Titled With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace, Haley has been making the rounds to promote it and has managed the rarest balancing act of the Trump era: criticizing him when necessary but not going into full-on Trump Derangement Syndrome.
Haley appeared on NBC News with Savannah Guthrie this week and the clip went viral because of how hard Guthrie went after Haley. Liberals on Twitter applauded but the clip also made the rounds of my non-political Facebook universe commending Haley for her calm demeanor and grace under pressure. Guthrie focused most of her questions not on Haley’s book but on Haley’s opinion of Donald Trump and Haley swatted them easily.
Guthrie is known for this kind of interview with Republicans. She asked Betsy DeVos whether the NRA had ‘gotten to’ President Trump and had an exchange with Rand Paul where he had to ask her to stop talking over him and editorializing. Meanwhile she warmly clasped Hillary Clinton’s hand during a Town Hall to interrupt her and asked Barack Obama how he was so successful in killing terrorists. Anyone going on Guthrie’s show knows her obvious biases but Haley did it anyway.
It’s that kind of verve and fearlessness that gets her accolades from her fans and scares her detractors. The famous photo of Haley at the United Nations, raising her hand with a look of determination on her face, is her defining moment of the Trump presidency.
Originally a ‘NeverTrumper’, Haley pivoted to Trump supporter while still maintaining independence. In an administration known for either slavish devotion or daggers out, her effortless tightrope walk is something few have managed. One of her key strengths is her refusal to play the background political game that has been so popular among Trump administration officials.
Writing on the CNBC website, Jake Novak noted ‘Haley’s most risky and unconventional move materialized this week as her new book With All Due Respect included her account of how then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson and then-White House chief of staff John Kelly tried to recruit her in a secretive effort to undermine President Donald Trump’s agenda.
In a subsequent interview about the book, Haley made the argument that resisting the president publicly and to his face is fine, but ‘doing so behind his back is not’.
A large part of her appeal is this kind of openness. In the Guthrie interview she said it’s always bad policy to ask a foreign nation to investigate an American citizen, as Trump had done with the Ukraine and Hunter Biden. Trump isn’t going to hear about Haley whispering this to a media source, she says it out loud where he can watch it on TV.
It’s worth noting that the title of the book comes from a well-publicized pushback by Haley to the Trump administration. As W. James Antle III sums up in the Washington Examiner, Haley said publicly that the Trump administration had decided to sanction Russia while Donald Trump said they had not:
‘“It was not the first time Mr. Trump has yelled at the television over something he saw Ms. Haley saying,” the New York Times reported. Top Trump economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow said Haley was momentarily confused. “With all due respect,” she shot back on Fox News, “I don’t get confused.” Kudlow apologized.’
The attacks on her from the left and from ‘NeverTrumpers’ will sharpen as her star continues to grow. The swamp may yet get to Haley but, so far, she’s positioned herself perfectly as the candidate to beat for the Republican nomination in 2024. And, with all due respect, she knows it.