The One Way Nikki Haley's Cabinet Appointment Sharply Breaks From Tradition

Well, that's another appointment down. President-elect Donald Trump just picked South Carolina governor Nikki Haley to serve as the American Ambassador to the United Nations, plucking the popular two-term sitting governor from her statehouse and sending her into a totally new world of international diplomacy. And in that way, it's a move without any past comparison ― if you're wondering how Haley's UN Ambassador appointment breaks with tradition, it's because no other sitting governor has ever been tapped for the job.

Does that sound unthinkable? Well, it's true. In fact, out of the 35 people who've served in this role since it was established back in 1945, only two have also had gubernatorial experience, only one had that experience prior to getting the UN job, and none have ever been pulled out of the governor's chair to serve. Adlai Stevenson served as Illinois governor from 1949 to 1953, then as UN ambassador from 1961 to 1965, while Bill Richardson served as UN ambassador from 1997 to 1998, then served two terms as governor of New Mexico, from 2003 to 2011.

In other words, the transition Haley is about to make is one that nobody before her ever has, going from leading the Palmetto State to walking the halls of the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

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Simply put, despite the fact that many Republican establishment types are probably happy to see a mainstream, popular name on Trump's appointment list, this is a strange pick, speaking both historically, and in terms of Haley's qualifications for the job. Typically, as the long list of previous ambassadors demonstrates, this isn't a job that goes to a big name, rising star in their party. To the contrary, serving as UN ambassador has most commonly been one of the most prestigious jobs for career civil servants, diplomats, and experts in international affairs, all descriptions that do not fit Haley. In fact, Haley has zero experience as an ambassador or a diplomat at any level.

Which doesn't mean she can't end up doing a good job and living up to the appointment, but it's still peculiar nonetheless. Sometimes, incoming presidents have been accused of trying to cut off the political prospects of their opponents by handing them relatively unremarkable or publicly unheralded positions that the recipient nonetheless feels required by custom to accept ― this was claimed of President Obama's appointment of Republican John Huntsman as U.S. ambassador to China in 2009.

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But Haley isn't a Democrat, and although she would've been ending her second term as governor in 2019, and has been a critic of Trump in the past, it's unlikely in the extreme that she'd be a threat to mount a primary challenge to him in 2020. Unless his first term were an absolute, unmitigated disaster ― a distinct possibility, though! Really, it's probably impossible to discern Trump's thinking, but suffice to say he's cut thoroughly against the mold on this one.