Et Tu, Nikki Haley?
Is former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley thinking seriously of challenging Donald Trump and running for president in 2020?
Haley, who had several high profile-skirmishes with her former boss, is certainly acting like a candidate. She is already one of the top GOP draws on the fundraising circuit and is slated to headline kick-off fundraisers for West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner. She's also slotted to be a featured speaker at next week's Susan B. Anthony dinner, a major GOP organization with the right-to-life movement.
But what's raising eyebrows this week is Iowa Senator Joni Ernst's announcement that Haley will headline her inaugural fundraising event.
“You go to Iowa for one reason — and it’s not for the food,” said Rick Tyler, a top aide in Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“Ambassador Haley has no plan to run for political office,” Haley spokeswoman Chaney Denton said Friday. “America is the greatest country in the world, and she believes we all have a part to play in keeping it that way. For her, that means using the power of her voice to stand up for conservative candidates and policies that make America stronger.”
The Ernst campaign said Haley coming to Iowa is about supporting the senator, who is seeking a second term, and nothing more.
“Running for president isn’t a requirement when speaking at Roast and Ride, and we’ve hosted fantastic speakers in the past, including Sen. Tim Scott and congressman Trey Gowdy (both from South Carolina), who weren’t running,” Ernst campaign senior adviser Brook Ramlet said.
Trump has let it be known that he and Haley have held discussions on her potential role in the 2020 presidential campaign, so on the surface, it would seem there's no obvious schism. But Haley clashed with the president on several issues during her UN ambassadorship and was never comfortable with Trump's bombastic style.
So while Haley walks and talks like a presidential candidate, it's much more likely that rather than stabbing Trump in the back, she is positioning herself for a run in 2024.
Then there are the "what ifs?"
What if Trump were impeached? He would almost certainly survive a Senate trial, but how viable would he be as a candidate in 2020?
There's a possibility of "Trump fatigue" affecting the president's standing. Trump has a very strong, very loyal base of supporters but the constant crush of hysterical criticism of the president, as well as the media drumbeat of scandal after scandal might wear on ordinary voters.
Nikki Haley and a few other Republicans are playing the long game and looking to 2024. But they are also not limiting their options for 2020. If in the very unlikely event Donald Trump would not be a candidate when the primaries kick off next year, Haley will, at least, have something of a head start on many of her potential rivals.