Nikki Haley says she’s not running for president in 2020. We believe her — for now at least — and we think that’s smart on her part. But we wouldn’t object if she changed her mind.
Haley announced Tuesday she was resigning as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, effective at the end of 2018. She then quickly waved off the notion that she would challenge Donald Trump for the Republican nomination in two years. Instead, she said, she will campaign for his re-election.
That’s a wise decision politically. Haley is a star in the GOP, but even if she managed to defeat the sitting president in a 2020 Republican primary — an unlikely scenario — she would risk losing the sizable, cultish wing of the GOP that will support Trump now and forever. Perhaps Trump will decide four years as president is enough, and Haley will run in 2020. Absent that, Haley is better off letting the love build all the way to 2024, when Republicans will be looking for their next leader.
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Still, Haley is the kind of moderate Republican the party — and the country — needs. Not in six years, but right now.
As South Carolina’s governor, Haley led her state’s economic resurgence while displaying a thoughtfulness, strength and decency too often absent from political conversation these days. She’s also had the backbone to occasionally stand up to the president as U.S. ambassador — although she could have acquiesced less to Trump’s reckless policies and utterings.
This is not, certainly, an endorsement of Haley for President in 2020. We don’t know who her primary or general election opponents would be, for starters. But while we’ve agreed with Haley on some issues (rural education funding) and disagreed on others (expanding background checks for guns), we also remember this about the former governor: When North Carolina was mired in the aftermath of HB2 and the transgender bathroom debate, Haley deftly sidestepped the controversy. Such a bill was unnecessary in her state, she said then, because her office had received no complaints about the issue and because South Carolinians already are respectful to people from different backgrounds.
It was the right call politically and an important line to draw regarding South Carolina and the LGBT community. It also was a reminder that Republicans don’t have to perpetually pick fights on social and cultural issues — that there’s room to let people and communities get to a place that’s right for them.
Haley is far from the only Republican who understands this, but moderate Republicans also recognize the corner the GOP has painted itself into by moving so far and so divisively to the right. The challenge for Haley and centrists of any stripe: Bring their party and political conversation back to a more dignified, less divisive place without losing the support of all the people, including the president, who took it elsewhere.
That will happen for Republicans only if a legitimate challenger to Trump emerges, not one whom the president has already trounced. (We’re looking at you, John Kasich.) Nikki Haley says that she’s not that candidate — at least not now. We understand why, but moderates are fleeing Donald Trump’s GOP, and it might be too late for her party by the time she says yes.