During his late-night talk show on Wednesday, Stephen Colbert praised Nikki Haley for speaking out about Russian sanctions and defying her critics in the Trump administration. "If you come at Nikki Haley, you best not mess," he said about the U.N. ambassador.
Haley had made headlines earlier in the week for announcing a new round of forthcoming sanctions on Russia that were quickly taken back by the White House. Axios reported that President Trump was angry Haley had made the announcement before him, but Haley's allies believe that the president was "unfairly throwing her under the bus" because her remarks had been approved.
Colbert agreed. "We tried to get a followup from Nikki Haley, but it's so hard to reach her under that bus," he joked Wednesday night. He suggested that Trump might be frustrated because he "accidentally appointed someone competent" in Haley, and also slammed comments made about her by the National Economic Council's director, Larry Kudlow.
"She got ahead of the curve," Kudlow said on Monday. "She's done a great job. She's a very effective ambassador." He added, regarding the sanctions: "There might have been some momentary confusion about that."
"Well listen up, Larry," Colbert said, "If you come at Nikki Haley, you best not mess." He brought up Haley's blunt response to Kudlow, which was praised by many, including CNN: "With all due respect, I don't get confused," she said.
"Good for you, Nikki!” Colbert said. "Yeah! You hear that? Nikki Haley does not get confused! Except for that one time she joined the Trump administration. Not sure what she was thinking then."
Of course, Haley isn't just an innocent who happened to find herself in the Trump administration. She's supported many far-right actions of the White House, including the decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Haley even used vaguely threatening language to defend the choice, saying that she would be "taking names" for the countries that refused to endorse the United States' decision.
"On substantive issues, she is a Trumpster, one who cloaks herself in diplomatic disguise," U.N. analyst Stephen Schlesinger told The Nation. He described how Haley's poise "disguises her deeply conservative, even reactionary views on U.S. policy abroad."
But she isn't exactly a Trump puppet, either. CNN reports that Haley has been careful not to contradict Trump in public and tries to match his messaging. But she reportedly disagrees with him in private — which might not be notable for another administration but is in a White House known for Oval Office groveling — and has alluded to the possibility that she criticized his response to the Charlottesville violence last spring. Her language condemning Russian activities is often harsher than Trump's, as analyzed by The Chicago Tribune.
For her part, Haley insists that her commitment to asserting her opinions, even when they do contradict the White House's, is actually part of what Trump appreciates her. On Wednesday, she told a reporter at the U.N. that her relationship with the president is "perfect."
Discussing her decision to join the U.N. last September, Haley recounted to CNN a conversation she had with Trump about her appointment. "I said, 'I don’t want to be a wallflower or a talking head,'" she recalled. "'I want to be able to speak my mind.' He said, 'That is why I asked you to do this.'"
She also said that Trump has continued to approve of her assertiveness since she entered the job. "I'm a strong voice by nature," she said. "He's very aware of what I'm doing and he's very supportive."
Of course, that may be changing. The New York Times reports that Trump has recently "grown exasperated by her outspokenness" at times. It could be that Haley is finally paying a price for the limited ways in which she does differ from Trump on foreign policy and messaging.