NEW YORK -- Nikki Haley keeps delivering for Donald Trump.
Whether leading efforts to isolate North Korea or hailing cuts to the United Nations budget, Haley's ability to channel Trump's blunt style is prompting fellow U.N. envoys and foreign policy specialists to wonder whether the 45-year-old former South Carolina governor is laying the groundwork to succeed her boss in the Oval Office.
U.N. ambassadors from other nations take Haley's "obvious domestic political ambitions" in stride, said Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations. "Most foreign representatives are willing to shrug off her hard-line positions on Israel and U.N. costs as necessary political posturing."
The theater of the U.N. podium and the Security Council chambers have long favored officials who can present their cases with flair and a sense of drama: think Colin Powell's ultimately flawed arguments against Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction or, decades earlier, Fidel Castro's tirades against colonialism and capitalism before the General Assembly.
Speculation about Haley's future kicked back into gear after the American ambassador's speech to the U.N. General Assembly last month, just before the global body condemned on a 128-9 vote President Trump's decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. Haley held a defiant thank-you reception for the small group of nations who voted with the U.S., abstained or managed to be no-shows for the vote.
Never mind that much of the world viewed the vote as a rejection of Trump's "America First" foreign policy. That wasn't her audience.
Haley's remarks -- in which she said the U.S. had been "singled out for attack" after "exercising our right as a sovereign nation" -- seemed more targeted to Trump and Republican voters than foreign diplomats, according to a Security Council diplomat from a U.S.-allied nation who asked not to be identified discussing the U.S. ambassador to the world body.
Even when events don't go her way -- an emergency Security Council meeting she called last week on street protests in Iran turned into a pointed defense of the nuclear accord Trump opposes -- Haley is unfazed.
"Those don't bother me," she said of criticism from Security Council members. "We were there for the Iranian people. They were heard. That's what matters."
"Haley speaks her mind," said Katon Dawson, an ally of Haley who ran the South Carolina Republican party from 2002 to 2009. "She's got good political instincts."