Why the ellipsis in the headline, you ask? She was his ambassador to the UN. It’s not a big surprise that she’d defend him.
Right, but no one on either side of the party is under any illusions about her politics. Haley is the leader-in-waiting of the establishment GOP in 2024, the great RINO hope. She’s going to run for the nomination after Trump is gone, the story goes, and restore traditional conservatism to dominance within the party. She has to play nice with Trumpers to preserve her electability — hence the ambassadorship — but she’s not a Trumper herself and realistically can’t position herself as one. Her entire appeal to the chunk of the party that lies outside Trump’s core base is that she’s not one of “them,” she one of “us.” That’s why you find Haley occasionally scolding Trump on Twitter for a nasty comment or whatever. She’s just protecting her brand.
Naturally, then, you wouldn’t expect her to go face-first into the tank for the president on impeachment. To oppose impeachment, sure. Again: She has to play nice with the populists. But to scoff at impeachment? Nah, never. You’d expect Haley to be somewhere in the ballpark of Rob Portman and Tucker Carlson, willing to concede that the president behaved improperly by leaning on Ukraine for help with Burisma and the Bidens but committed no impeachable offense.
Instead, here she is cannonballing right into that proverbial tank.
I know I speak for all Never Trumpers when I say: You just made some very powerless enemies, Nikki Haley. Very powerless indeed.
A fuller transcript:
NORAH O’DONNELL: Do you think, ultimately, the president will be impeached and removed from office?
NIKKI HALEY: No. On what? You’re going to impeach a president for asking for a favor that didn’t happen and – and giving money and it wasn’t withheld? I don’t know what you would impeach him on. And look, Norah, impeachment is, like, the death penalty for a public official. When you look at the transcript, there’s nothing in that transcript that warrants the death penalty for the president. And I think that –
O’DONNELL: To be clear, it was not a complete transcript. There are still things that are missing from it. And in it, he does say, “I would like you to do us a favor,” though.
HALEY: The Ukrainians never did the investigation. And the president released the funds. I mean, when you look at those, there’s just nothing impeachable there. And more than that, I think the biggest thing that bothers me is the American people should decide this. Why do we have a bunch of people in Congress making this decision?
I repeat: She’s more comfortable with Trump’s handling of the Ukraine matter than the 8 p.m. anchor on Trump TV is.
Her defenses of Trump are three shades of lame, to the point where I’d bet Haley herself doesn’t believe them. The reason the favor from Ukraine didn’t happen and the money wasn’t ultimately withheld has been explained repeatedly in the press, as recently as yesterday: Congress and the media got wise to the weird delay in the Ukraine aid in early September and started twisting Trump’s arm about it before Zelensky had a chance to announce the reopening of the Burisma probe. By the time he was ready to do that, scheduling an appearance on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN show on September 13, there were already too many people sniffing around reports of a quid pro quo to make it safe to follow through. The whistleblower complaint was even being talked about in the West Wing. The White House aborted the quid pro quo because it was in their political interest at that point to do so, not because it didn’t exist. Haley’s giving Trump credit here for something Congress essentially forced him to do, after months of resistance from him.
As far as the transcript goes, whether or not you believe Trump’s mention of a “favor” was evidence of a quid pro quo, the whole point of the last month of testimony is that the effort to pressure Ukraine went waaaaay beyond that phone call. Giuliani had been working on it since May. Gordon Sondland warned the Ukrainians in September that the military aid wouldn’t be released without movement on Burisma. Sondland had met with them in July too, in John Bolton’s office, to reiterate the White House’s interest in “anti-corruption” investigations. If Haley’s going to strain to let Trump off the hook despite that flurry of activity, the better defense would be that there’s no hard proof that the president himself specifically ordered Giuliani, Sondland, and Mick Mulvaney to pursue a quid pro quo. Make them the fall guys. Everyone else in the party is about to do so.
And in terms of impeachment amounting to “the death penalty,” that’s a weird claim to make when everyone understands in advance that the president will be easily acquitted in the Senate. He’s already bribed his own jurors via fundraising. He’ll finish his term without a shadow of a doubt. But if you take Haley’s logic seriously, the answer to the question of why a bunch of people in Congress are making this decision is because the farking Constitution specifically empowered them to do so. A constitutional scheme in which American voters alone have the right to remove the president from office would mean that a newly elected president would have carte blanche for four years to abuse his power however he liked with no recourse to stop him until the next election. That’s bananas, especially since impeachment has a built-in popular check by virtue of the fact that the power to impeach is granted to the House. If the House abuses its own power by impeaching the president on flimsy grounds, voters only have to wait a maximum of two years to punish them at the polls.
If Haley was hellbent on ingratiating herself to Trumpers by defending him on this, she could have simply said that the quid pro quo wasn’t a high crime or misdemeanor. You may think it was bad, because it targeted one of Trump’s potential election opponents, or you may think it was fine, because it might potentially expose official corruption by Joe Biden, but either way it just doesn’t rise to the level of an offense so egregious that it warrants removal of the president before his term is up. Instead she kitchen-sinked it with the lame defenses above. Why? Because the point isn’t really to defend Trump, it’s to signal to his fans that she’s on the team. She’s making an effort. Good enough for 2024?
Exit question: How weird is it that Haley is in the tank for Trump and meanwhile it seems clearer every day that his own former NSA, John Bolton, might ultimately blow him up? His lawyer teased House Democrats today with a letter claiming that Bolton “was personally involved in many of the events, meetings, and conversations about which you have already received testimony, as well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far.” Not yet discussed? This season’s finale of “President Trump” when Bolton testifies is going to be lit.