To remain in the political spotlight, Nikki Haley aims low

Nikki Haley wants to remain relevant and popular in Republican circles, and it's led her to conclude that aiming for the gutter will be good for her career.
Image: North Korea
United States U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, right, speaks during United Nations Security Council meeting on July 5, 2017.Bebeto Matthews / AP
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By Steve Benen

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley appears eager to remain in the political spotlight, and if scuttlebutt is any indication, it's probably because the South Carolina Republican has national office in mind.

The larger question, however, is just how low Haley is prepared to go in pursuit of her political goals.

The past couple of months have been far from encouraging. In early November, for example, Haley made the argument that Donald Trump's Ukraine scheme collapsed after the White House was caught, and as such, the president's corruption shouldn't be impeachable -- as if failed crimes fall into the "no harm, no foul" category.

Soon after, Haley argued that some members of Trump's cabinet took "dangerous" steps to undermine the president in the hopes of trying to "save the country," but she stood by Trump. A week later, she told TV preacher Pat Robertson's cable program, in response to a question about a divine hand possibly putting Trump in the Oval Office, "[E]verything happens for a reason… I think that God sometimes places people for lessons and sometimes places people for change."

In December, the former ambassador raised eyebrows again, making provocative and historically inaccurate comments about the Confederate battle flag.

All of which helped set the stage for last night and Haley's latest conspicuous move. A Washington Post analysis noted:

Given even more freedom to pick her spots after leaving the administration a year ago -- and with a future that many suspect includes a White House bid -- she has now made it abundantly clear that she's betting on Trumpism sticking around.

Haley made perhaps her most strident comments to date Monday night on Sean Hannity's Fox News show. Talking about Trump's decision to kill Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian Quds Force commander, she said Democrats were "mourning" his loss.

Specifically, the former ambassador told the national television audience, "The only ones that are mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership and our Democrat presidential candidates. No one else in the world."

It wasn't a throwaway line that Haley made in the heat of the moment. On the contrary, she took pride in smearing Democratic leaders and needlessly questioning their patriotism, promoting the quote via social media.

It matters, of course, that Haley was brazenly lying. It matters that she used deliberately wrong grammar as a way of staying true to a tired tribal game. It matters that the former ambassador talks up the importance of "civility" in politics, even while falsely accusing Americans of "mourning" a terrorist's death.

But let's not miss the forest for the trees: Haley wants to remain relevant and popular in Republican circles, and it's led her to conclude that aiming for the gutter will be good for her career.

The New York Times' Charles Blow wrote last month, "There was a moment in which people thought -- and many liberals feared -- that Nikki Haley ... would be the post-Donald Trump face of the Republican Party as a political candidate. She was somewhat respected, had crafted an image of competence and seemed to have more of a moral center than many Republicans now toeing the line in support of Trump."

Haley has set fire to that reputation. Whether that advances or hinders her standing in politics remains to be seen, but given the prevailing partisan winds, it's hard not to suspect the former ambassador has placed a smart, albeit disheartening, bet on her future.

MORE: Today's Maddowblog