Nikki Haley is not to be trifled with -- especially by the likes of a TV anchor-turned-newly-minted White House aide.
Larry Kudlow, the chief economic adviser for President Donald Trump, learned that lesson the (very) hard way on Tuesday after he gave an roundly dismissive interview on Haley's promise of future sanctions against Russia.
"She got ahead of the curve," Kudlow told reporters gathered near Mar-a-Lago. "She's done a great job, she's a very effective ambassador. There might have been some momentary confusion about that."
It felt -- and sounded -- like a rhetorical pat on the head. Sure, Nikki said that we were imposing sanctions on Russia. But she was sort of out of the loop and we changed our minds. She means well!
Haley wasn't having it.
"With all due respect, I don't get confused," she said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
It's clear from that statement that Haley was annoyed that she had been put on the Sunday shows to sell soon-to-be-announced sanctions against Russia only to watch the rug pulled out from under her when the President changed his mind about the timing (or maybe even the existence) of the sanctions.
There's roughly a 0% chance that Haley a) freelanced on the timing of those sanctions or b) was somehow confused by the proposed timing of their rollout.
That indignity was big enough. But to then have Kudlow say, essentially, "Nikki is a nice person but the big boys have got this one" was a bridge too far for Haley. And understandably so.
People forget that Haley made her name in South Carolina as a challenge to the old boys political network in the state. Initially aligned with then-Gov. Mark Sanford prior to his personal implosion, Haley's persona in the state was of someone willing to challenge established norms in one of the most entrenched political bureaucracies in the country.
That independence from the political establishment is what drew Trump to Haley despite the fact that she was one of his loudest critics during the campaign. And, Haley likely cemented that appeal to Trump when she initially turned down his offer to be the UN ambassador.
As Haley recounted to CNN's Elisa Labott in September 2017 of her conversation with Trump:
"I said 'I am a policy girl, I want to be part of the decision-making process. He said, 'done.' And I said, 'I don't want to be a wallflower or a talking head. I want to be able to speak my mind.' He said, 'That is why I asked you to do this.' In all honesty, I didn't think they were going to take me up on everything I asked for. And they gave me all that. So how do you turn that down?"
Haley has, to date, been among the most successful Trump senior officials during the first 16 months of the Trump administration -- showing an aggressive and unapologetic face to the rest of the world while also staying in Trump's good graces, which is no easy thing.
And knowing Trump, Haley's willingness to publicly gut Kudlow may actually further endear her to him; Trump loves fights among the people who work for him -- especially when one of the two combatants totally destroys the other. Which is exactly what happened here.
The one danger spot for Haley: She'll get a lot of positive buzz in the media for this showdown with Kudlow. We know Trump doesn't love when people who work for him get better press than him. Every victory in Trumpworld contains at least the seed of failure.
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