Donald Trump may be out, along with his disastrously incompetent foreign policy advisers, but don’t expect them to sit quietly on the sidelines while a new team struggles to clean up the mess they left behind.
Just days before Joe Biden’s inauguration, Nikki Haley, Trump’s first United Nations ambassador, declared that she was forming a political action committee, a necessary step for her eventual pursuit of the presidency in 2024 — a move that ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump himself are also weighing.
So even after the changing of the guard, Haley, Pompeo and Trump will still be jockeying for our attention and meddling in US foreign policy. The inauguration on Jan. 20 simply marked the start of what is likely to be a brutal battle for the soul of the Republican Party over the next four years.
Long after Trump baselessly claimed that he had been robbed of a second term, and even after the president urged a mob to storm the Capitol, Pompeo clung to Trump and his lies. Kelly Craft, the most recent UN ambassador, and Haley remained silent and uncritical of Trump even as he falsely insisted for months that the election had been stolen from him.
Finally, on Jan. 7, Trump publicly acknowledged in a video message that “a new administration will be inaugurated on Jan. 20.” But Pompeo and Haley then just switched strategies, simply heating up their competition.
One day after the deadly Capitol invasion, Haley showed a rare streak of independence, daring to criticize a president notoriously hostile to critics. “President Trump . . . was badly wrong with his words yesterday. And it wasn’t just his words. His actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history,” she told a Republican National Committee dinner in Florida, calling his role in the assault “deeply disappointing.”
Pompeo, for his part, continued to steer clear of any criticism of his boss, instead sticking to the line that the Trump years had been an extraordinary success and that he was committed to carrying the president’s fight forward.
He was still at it on Jan. 18. “I will never stop fighting for America First, even after my time as secretary of State,” he tweeted after 12 days of silence. “There is always more work to be done and I look forward to continuing to share and engage with you on what’s next. If you haven’t already, please be sure to follow me @mikepompeo.”
Pompeo was positioning himself as an enduring true believer while Haley appeared to be gambling that after the storming of the Capitol, she would win more supporters in the long run by putting some distance between herself and her tyrannical former boss.
The two and a half months leading up to Biden’s inauguration clearly marked one of the most dispiriting and destabilizing periods in United States history. The outgoing administration, already branded as the worst in US history, hit an absolute low point when the sitting president challenged the core of the nation’s democratic tradition through a sustained drive to overturn Biden’s election.
Yet many Republican politicians seemed stuck on the idea of Trump as the Republican Party’s most worthy leader, even as he helicoptered out of Washington. “We will be back in some form,” he announced as he prepared to leave Washington for his final flight to Florida on Air Force One.
In November, days after the declaration of Biden’s victory, Pompeo had famously responded to a reporter’s question about his plans for the handover by saying, “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” It took two more months, only a dozen days before Biden’s inauguration, for Pompeo to actually discuss changeover plans with Antony Blinken, Biden’s pick to succeed him as secretary of state.
That puts Haley out in front of Pompeo, though not if you’re counting Twitter followers. But even as she was criticizing the president at the Jan. 7 RNC dinner, she softened her stance, adding, “It’s a real shame, because I am one who believes our country made some truly extraordinary gains in the last four years.”
As examples, she cited Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord and the confirmation of three Supreme Court justices.
Meanwhile, Craft seems destined to disappear from public view, though she has a new Twitter account and is rumored to be planning to run for office in Kentucky, her home state. During her tenure at the UN, she seemed to work hard at keeping out of the limelight despite holding what many see as the country’s second-most powerful foreign policy job. She seemed content to faithfully parrot the administration line and rarely broke news, leaving the heavy diplomatic lifting to Pompeo.
John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser from April 2018 to September 2019, wrote in his recent book, “The Room Where It Happened,” that he and Pompeo pushed Craft as Haley’s successor so that the new UN ambassador would not act “as a free electron,” as Haley had. While Trump had given Haley a seat in the cabinet, Bolton and Pompeo were pleased that Craft, the wife of a coal billionaire and Trump campaign donor, would be willing to stand quietly behind the boys, lacking cabinet status and with little diplomatic experience.
In keeping with that image, the individual words of Craft’s farewell statement, issued on Jan. 15, were released by the US Mission’s press office in a format that could not be digitally excerpted and pasted. This proved so challenging to the media that her departure was covered just about nowhere in the world apart from PassBlue, which screen-grabbed the whole thing.
Tellingly, her message made no mention of Trump, but instead focused on the words of Abraham Lincoln, who was born in Kentucky, not far from her hometown of Glasgow.
“[F]reedom and democracy are cardinal. Recall too, as the wisest of all our Presidents reminded my nation, in another period of terrible turbulence, both are always being tested or challenged,” her statement said. “Lincoln is a star in the firmament, and he surely never shone more brightly than when, in the briefest of all Presidential addresses, he gave voice to the hope and prayer that ‘government by the people, for the people and of the people’ should not ‘perish from the earth.'”
Was there meant to be a hidden message here? With luck, we will never know.
We will instead be learning about veteran diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s choice to succeed Craft. Thomas-Greenfield served as director general of the foreign service and ran the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs during the Obama administration.
Haley, since leaving her UN job at the end of 2018, has been working on self-promotion and raising money through her tax-exempt foundation, Stand for America. This vehicle has enabled her to hire a staff and pay for travel and other expenses, in return for pledging to pursue “social welfare.” Donations are tax-deductible.
While donations to her new PAC are not deductible, she can use the PAC money to fund campaigns, whether in support of or in opposition to candidates for federal elective office, including, should she decide to run in 2024, her own candidacy.
“STAND FOR AMERICA PAC is a political action committee laser-focused on the 2022 midterms and electing a conservative force to the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to counter the liberal agendas of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi,” she wrote in a Jan. 13 e-mail to supporters.
“When I sat in the Oval Office before my last press conference as UN Ambassador, I made a promise to keep standing for America,” she wrote. “I renewed that promise last fall at the Republican National Convention. I am not done, not by a long shot.”
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.