Nikki Haley is a social-climbing political opportunist whose most deeply held political belief is Nikki Haley.
This has been true since before she even entered the national consciousness, but she blessed us with a quick refresher course Thursday when she condemned President Donald Trump during a dinner speech to the Republican National Committee’s annual winter meeting.
She’s not alone in doing so. Corporate media swelled this week with Republicans who, like Haley, spent years working for the president (and were campaigning for him as recently as two months ago) and now are denouncing him with all their might.
Most of those resigning will advertise this as a brave decision. But it’s tough to pin a medal on spending the remaining two weeks of the president’s term trying out for a job on CNN (or at least a pardon from corporate recruiters), and it only gets tougher when compounded with the honest assessment that the same corporate media (and the Democrats they support) share a great deal of the blame with Trump for the events leading up to Wednesday’s shameful and depressing riot.
But wanna-be President Haley isn’t focused on such tiny ambitions, nor is this her first time earning quick points condemning Trump. The New York businessman is “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president,” she’d told a reporter before South Carolina’s 2016 Republican presidential debate. She made sure to glare for the cameras when they came around for the big day.
But circumstances and opportunities change. This is why, two weeks before the 2016 election, Haley told reporters she’d be voting for the Republican nominee even though his campaign was “embarrassing” and had “turned [her] stomach upside down.” Her decision, she publicly lamented, was not an “easy” one, despite it being precisely the easiest and safest decision available to a professional Republican who still wanted to be president someday.
Two weeks later, Trump won the election and Haley saw her opportunities shifting yet again. By the end of November, she’d said she’d accept his nomination to ambassador to the United Nations — a job that gave her the foreign policy experience and spotlight she needed to keep her name in the running for future president.
But that wasn’t all it got her: After she’d left the administration, Haley’s experience working for Trump won her $315,000 sitting on Boeing’s board. It was a step up from her previous hodgepodge of jobs in the private sector, where she’d accepted inflated salaries from multiple companies. She was just a state senator back then, but the companies paying her salaries had business before her legislature. It’s good to get ahead when you’re Nikki Haley.
Those South Carolina paychecks eventually sparked an ethics investigation and a small fine in 2013, although by then she was governor. See, the Tea Party had come along, and sensing opportunity (!), Haley had set herself to reading a few Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman books, and traveled around the state quoting them to wealthy conservative donors.
Impressed with the young woman, they backed her all the way to the governor’s mansion, where her presidential ambitions began to shine as 1) the first female governor of South Carolina, 2) the youngest governor in the country, and 3) the second Indian governor in American history.
Her Tea Party honeymoon didn’t last, however: Her tax breaks to major international companies undercutting local manufacturers didn’t sit well with them. By 2016, then-Gov. Haley’s much-lauded endorsement of Sen. Marco Rubio landed him 10 points behind Trump in her own state.
That doesn’t mean she’s down and out by any stretch. It’s been a long road to the White House, and she’s made all the safe decisions at every turn, with Thursday’s speech just the latest detour. Circumstances and opportunities change quickly, after all. And so does Nikki Haley.