A record number of staff members have quit, resigned or been fired by the administration of Donald Trump during its first year, roughly at a rate of one in three — a sieve unseen in the previous five White Houses, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution.
As a matter of fact, Trump has doubled the rate of departure from the previous record holder, Ronald Reagan.
Trump hires from a position of loyalty rather than for job qualification, adding to the turnover rate, the Brookings report said. His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was a chief executive of ExxonMobil. Trump’s latest chief of staff, John Kelly, is a former four-star United States Marine general. Nikki Haley, Trump’s envoy to the United Nations, was formerly the governor of South Carolina, a Tea Party politician with no grounding in foreign affairs.
Yet Haley appears to have settled into the UN community, despite the turmoil constantly shaking the Trump White House. It is turmoil that recently includes allegations of a high-level official having beaten his former wives and Trump calling the entire African continent, El Salvador and Haiti “shitholes” as well as the continuing federal investigation into Russian interference in America’s 2016 elections, including an increasing number of indictments of former top advisers to Trump.
In addition, both a Playboy Playmate and a porn celebrity have alleged they had affairs with Trump during his current — and third — marriage.
Unlike previous American ambassadors to the UN, Haley sought plenty of news media exposure during the first year of Trump’s presidency. She appeared on TV, especially Fox News, an outlet favored by Trump, almost regularly. She has departed from the administration’s talking points just a few times: she maintained that Russia did interfere with the 2016 elections and that women who accuse anyone of sexual harassment or misconduct should be heard and “dealt with.”
As Tillerson gains more influence in foreign capitals and media exposure, such as the interview on “60 Minutes” on Feb. 18, Haley has slowed down her TV exposure, particularly since scandals from the White House have erupted almost daily.
Yet Haley remains active on social media, where she avoids references in her Twitter feed regarding the allegations churning through the White House. Such distancing has become more obvious this year, as she focuses more narrowly on her role at the UN without mentioning policy from the State Department or Trump.
Strongly promoting her personal brand, which is directed at her political base in the American South, pro-Israeli lobbyists in the US (the header photo on her Twitter page shows her with Israeli schoolgirls) and, lastly, the UN diplomatic world, Haley tweets pictures with foreign dignitaries, aspirational phrases and her favorite music.
Two days after the school shooting in Florida that killed 17 people, which Haley acknowledged with thoughts and prayers but no mention of gun control, she tweeted that it was a “Kelly Clarkson kind of morning.”
Given the volume of scandals pouring from the White House, we asked four people who are expert on the UN and global affairs what it might take for Haley to leave her New York post — and can she remove herself from White House snares without sacrificing her future political ambitions?
Heidi Tworek, Thomas Weiss, Stephen Schlesinger and Michele Manatt relayed their opinions on these questions, suggesting several possibilities for Haley, such as stepping away from Trump publicly by keeping the focus off Trump on her social media accounts. The experts generally say that Haley has successfully navigated a tough road as a Trump appointee, possibly because the expectations for her were so low from the start.
The upbeat assessments by some of the experts could also reflect Haley’s skill at using the power of television to present a one-sided image of herself, just as Trump manipulated it to great extent as a reality-show celebrity.
While Haley promised “transparency” at the US mission to the UN under her tenure and is visible on social media and certain television stations, she exerts strong control over her image-making. The US mission does not publish a daily schedule of meetings, rarely briefs media and lists no such contacts or many staff members on its website. It does post public speeches and statements and brief “readouts” on conversations with foreign officials at the mission.
As she heads to Guatemala and Honduras on Feb. 26, it is likely Haley will use TV and social media to push her brand and reach her US Republican constituency. Guatemala and Honduras were one of the few countries to have voted with the US against the UN General Assembly resolution in December declaring Trump’s Jerusalem decision null and void.
Heidi Tworek, an assistant professor of the University of British Columbia who manages the UN History Project, an academic website that originated in 2012: The ambassadorship, Tworek said, gives Haley important foreign policy experience, which is what she needs to take the next step in her career, so she needs to be in the post long enough for that experience to be creditable.
Tworek also said that Haley’s media exposure has elevated the position of US ambassador to the UN. Haley gets recognition for policymaking, or at the minimum, for vocalizing policy, as she seems to have mastered the learning curve for her new job quicker than Tillerson, garnering praise from both sides of the partisan aisle as “someone who can wield this power.”
The UN and especially the UN Security Council have remained more relevant under Haley than was expected in her role there, Tworek said. “She is able to navigate the problem of Trump’s cabinet and being subject to the whim of a capricious [Trump] cabinet, to get stuff done.”
Haley shares a direct line to Washington that her immediate predecessors, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, also experienced, Tworek noted.
“The people who cycle through faster are all men,” Tworek said. “Women are all willing to do the full term.” Jeane Kirkpatrick, Madeleine Albright, Rice and Power, the only women of the 30 permanent representatives named by the US to the UN in its history, all served terms of longer than three years.
“There are multiple ways of reading [Haley’s situation],” Tworek added. “It could be someone associated with a very chaotic administration, or someone who is able to stand out because she can navigate the chaos.”
Thomas Weiss, Presidential Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and author of the upcoming book, “Would the World Be Better Without the UN?”: The reason Haley would leave the UN, he said, is simple, “She gets a promotion.”
Yet, he pointed out: “Why would she leave? She joined the Trump mess in the first place. Another scandal, so what?”
“Haley has used media to elevate her position. It’s a position that has frequently had cabinet status, but that really wasn’t a cabinet position in the same way that a secretary of the treasury, or state, or defense was.”
Haley’s high profile, contrasted with the relatively low profile of Tillerson, leaves a lot of opacity on who exactly is setting US foreign policy, Weiss said.
“Media are desperate to have something sensible or possibly positive,” Weiss added. “Haley, one of the few women in the administration, is also one of the few who occasionally can contradict Trump.”
Haley may shine but Weiss cautioned, “The expectations were so low, she’s reached that and surpassed it, but it’s because of how low the expectations were, not how exceptional she’s been on the job.”
Stephen Schlesinger, a fellow at the Century Foundation think tank and a former editor of the World Policy Journal, agrees with Weiss. Haley would leave the UN job through a promotion, either to become secretary of state or even vice president — in 2020 — given “her ambitions and the fact that everybody is saying she’s seeking the presidency for herself.”
Schlesinger suggested that Haley might separate herself from Trump should the investigation into Russian interference in the American elections become seriously problematic for the White House. “[Haley] might want to distance herself by leaving and taking a job in private industry, until she can reconnoiter about her own possibilities to running in 2020.”
Otherwise, two things could derail Haley’s ambassadorship, Schlesinger said. The first would be a public fight with Trump, but “this seems unlikely since she’s done everything to make sure they are speaking on the same page.”
The second thing that could sideline Haley, Schlesinger said, is if there is a scandal in her personal life that would force her to leave the administration.
Michele Manatt, a former senior policy adviser with the US State Department during the Clinton administration and a board member of the Diplomacy Center Foundation in Washington: “You’d have to really dig for the pushback on her,” Manatt said. “If it’s out there, it’s not easy to find.”
“The thing to keep an eye on is when there is an opening that would be beneficial and make sense for her, that would steer her back to her domestic political course,” Manatt pointed out, adding that there are few promotions available to Haley. Only one US ambassador to the UN has become president, George H. W. Bush. Bill Richardson became a secretary of energy in the Clinton administration. Albright became secretary of state, also under Clinton.
Manatt noted Haley’s quick mastery of her UN career. From her precise speeches at the Security Council to her media appearances and her foreign travel, she grasped the job in months, she said. Manatt suggested that Haley has recently dialed back on the frequency of her media appearances, possibly anticipating Tillerson’s presentation of the redesign of the State Department, his rising profile across the world and his increase in foreign travel.
“Haley is very able,” Manatt said. Haley has worked within the broad outlines of what Trump wants, while also elevating issues for approval by the UN Security Council, for the most part — with the glaring exception of the Council’s move to approve a resolution in December 2017 to negate Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. The resolution failed because Haley vetoed it, but the anger from the Council’s 14 members was pronounced.
She has also been successful in getting the Council to impose harsher sanctions on North Korea, but the UN’s joint investigative mechanism, or JIM, to probe chemical weapons use in Syria, fell apart under her watch as Russia vetoed the renewal of the JIM mandate.
“What’s the downside of her staying at her job?” Manatt asked. As Tillerson becomes more visible, Haley may be bound to the UN neighborhood for much longer — or for the moment.
Stéphanie Fillion contributed reporting to this article.