Nikki, Rex, and the General

According to the Washington Post, Nikki Haley claims in her new book that Rex Tillerson and Gen. John Kelly tried to recruit her to undermine President Trump in an effort to “save the country.” President Trump has tweeted an endorsement of Haley’s book and urged his followers to order a copy or attend her book tour.

Has Trump read the book or is he relying on the “fake news Washington Post” in endorsing it?

In the Washington Post’s report, Tillerson and Kelly are lumped together. However, there may have been a difference between Tillerson’s approach to Trump and Kelly’s approach.

Tillerson seems to have wanted to implement his version of a sound foreign policy, not Trump’s. But of course, it’s up to the president to determine U.S. foreign policy.

It’s less clear that Kelly wanted to implement his own foreign policy. His goal may have been to allow Trump to cool off, and to hear a full range of views, before implementing statements made impetuously or in bad temper. If so, that strikes me as a legitimate role for a White House chief-of-staff in any administration.

It’s also legitimate for a chief-of-staff to try to dissuade his boss from doing really stupid things. If Kelly had been chief-of-staff this summer, there’s a good chance he would have tried to talk Trump out of his scheme (hatched, perhaps, by Rudy Giuliani) to link military aid to Ukraine with an investigation by that country of Joe Biden.

Would Kelly have succeeded? There’s no way of knowing. But the effort would have been worth undertaking and might have spared Trump a good deal of trouble.

It is not the chief-of-staff’s role to recruit the U.N. ambassador in an effort to undermine the president. That goes without saying.

But I’d like to know exactly what Haley says Kelly did to “undermine” Trump, and in what context. Refusing to implement a final decision by Trump clearly would amount to undermining him. Buying a little time to make sure that Trump, after he cooled off, actually wanted a spur of the moment decision implemented would not.

Kelly confesses only to providing the President “with the best and most open, legal and ethical staffing advice from across the [government] so he could make an informed decision.” That’s not undermining Trump, that’s doing his job.

The details behind Haley’s broad allegations, as reported by the Post, matter. Haley also matters. She might become an important figure in the post-Trump GOP.

Maybe I’ll follow Trump’s advice and buy the book.

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