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Off the Merry-Go-Round but Still Reaching for the Brass Ring?


President Trump arriving at the United Nations with Nikki Haley, Sept. 18, 2017. The author describes how Haley, who is no longer US ambassador, is continuing to keep the spotlight on herself through Twitter, just as her former boss deploys the social media tool. RICK BAJORNAS/UN PHOTO

Nikki Haley is wasting no time revealing what her new act will look like now that she has ended her two-year gig toiling on behalf of Donald Trump at the United Nations.

Hint: It looks about the same — only more so.

Haley appears intent on continuing to build up her image as a potential president or vice president even as she takes a break from the hectic life of a cabinet officer and starts earning real money. She also seems bent on making clear that her politics still generally line up with her former boss’s — albeit, as always, with a few exceptions that have made her very popular in some circles.

Haley’s most extraordinary achievement while in government service has been to persuade many people that she is simultaneously a Trump-style hard-right nationalist comfortable with the occasional big lie and a reasonable big-hearted moderate intent on international harmony, good government and respect for human rights.

This is the gift she took with her. Balancing it, from the perspective of a future life in politics, will be the loss of guaranteed media coverage. While in Trump’s cabinet, simply opening her mouth guaranteed the click and whir of cameras, whether in front of the UN press corps or on a national talk show.

As a private citizen, she could easily drift out of people’s awareness. But she has learned from a master to use Twitter. Indeed, it appears to be the backbone of her stay-in-the-news strategy.

Since beginning private life on Jan. 1, she has been tweeting and retweeting like Trump on a bender. Maybe she’s just bored, or maybe she wants to stay visible. In any case, she seems to be moving closer to some of the president’s more unfortunate tendencies, displaying, for example, hints of anti-gay, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant dog whistles.

If you thought she would quickly begin to separate herself from any of Trump’s most depressing policies — to demonstrate to the public that she had been passing as a Trumpista merely to please the boss — look no further than her twitter feed, @NikkiHaley.

Getting a new twitter account up and running, in fact, was one of the first things she took care of in the new year.

“Due to State Dept rules that were changed by the outgoing administration, I have had to clear my personal Twitter account that I have had for years. The followers, the history, the pictures, and all other content. Please refollow and retweet this to your friends,” she said, drawing fans to her new account.

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She had accumulated 1.7 million followers over the years, having folded her account while South Carolina governor into her “official” State Department account when she became UN ambassador, renaming it @AmbNikkiHaley.

Though she tried to make it sound as if President Obama had personally targeted Trump officials, the new State Department regulations — aimed at “personal” versus “official” abuses à la Hillary Clinton — took effect in 2013, when Trump was merely a gleam in Steve Bannon’s eye. No matter. By Jan. 16, Haley was up to 355,000 followers. “Keep the refollows coming! Please retweet and remind friends to follow me,” she implored.

Fans of the president responded warmly, applauding her diplomatic brilliance and noting that she was one of the rare officials leaving the Trump administration to not stab him in the back after walking out the front door.

She was among the “good ones” who refrained “from issuing broadsides against Trump’s character and fitness to serve” after stepping down, Brit Hume, the Fox News senior political analyst, tweeted on Jan. 2. Haley, no surprise, promptly retweeted his endorsement.

“Thank you @nikkihaley — we will be rooting for you as you begin your next exciting chapter!” wrote First Daughter Ivanka Trump, quickly joined by colorful White House exes Anthony Scaramucci, Sean Spicer and Sebastian Gorka.

Haley also basked in praise on her Twitter feed from conservative friends and fans of Israel. During her two years of federal service, while obliged to deal with all 193 UN member nations, she championed the interests of Israel, above all others. Perhaps her most daunting assignment was to defend Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal and undivided capital, despite overwhelming international criticism and decades of Security Council resolutions objecting to that action. She rose to the challenge.

Citing what the Trump administration complained was an implacable UN bias against Israel, she also supported steep cuts in the US contribution to the Palestinian aid agency Unrwa and led Washington out of the UN Human Rights Council and Unesco.

“UNESCO is among the most corrupt and politically biased UN agencies. Today the U.S. withdrawal from this cesspool became official,” Haley tweeted on Jan. 1. Fox newscaster Sean Hannity, among others, retweeted that one.

Haley also rushed to support Trump’s campaign to keep the government shut down until Congress approves billions for his border wall.

“Today the new Congress takes office. No member should get paid while the government is shut down and border security is not funded,” she tweeted on Jan. 3. “Nikki Haley is right,” tweeted a Washington group called ACT for America — described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “the largest anti-Muslim group in America.”

Just as stunning was Haley’s applause for Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro.

“It’s great to have another U.S.-friendly leader in South America, who will join the fight against dictatorships in Venezuela and Cuba, and who clearly understands the danger of China’s expanding influence in the region,” she posted on Jan. 1. Bolsonaro is a pet of the White House nationalists gang, and Haley surely knows that he has a history of making vile homophobic and racist statements, joking about rape, comparing Brazil’s indigenous people with animals in a zoo and bashing gays.

“God bless Ambassador Nikki Haley. She left the UN shell-shocked to the end, lobbing bombshells even as she packed up during her last day on call at Turtle Bay,” tweeted James Carafano, a Fox news commentator and official of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Did it ever occur to Carafano that for an individual tasked by her country with the pursuit of international peace and security, this was maybe not such a good thing?

Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.

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