Nikki Haley moves back to SC, fuels political speculation

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is moving back to her native South Carolina, re-establishing a home base and also fueling speculation that a return to politics is next on her to-do list.

The 47-year-old former South Carolina governor, who left office in 2017 to join the Trump administration, closed Friday on a home on Kiawah Island, according to Alex Malloy, a spokeswoman for Kiawah Island Real Estate, which operates on the tony golf community near Charleston.

Haley's office confirmed the purchase, saying the family would be splitting time between South Carolina and New York until their son graduates from high school next spring.

"South Carolina has always been home for the Haleys, and they couldn't be more excited to return back to their family and friends in the Palmetto State," said Haley spokeswoman Chaney Denton.

Haley has been living in New York City since resigning her post at the end of 2018 but has maintained high popularity in South Carolina. This year, she joined the Boeing Co. board, founded a nonprofit and will soon embark on a tour to promote a new book, a step commonly taken by many on the road toward the White House.

The median price of a home on the island - known for its golf courses, five-star Sanctuary resort, and as a frequent vacation spot for former Vice President Joe Biden - is around $1 million, according to Zillow. 

When she announced her departure from the U.N., public disclosures listed Haley's debt had been between $525,000 to about $1 million in 2017. Early this year, reports indicated Haley was commanding as much as $200,000 for speaking appearances. 

A rookie to international politics, the former South Carolina governor was an unusual pick as envoy to the U.N., where she helped spearhead the administration's efforts to combat what it alleged to be anti-American and anti-Israel actions by the international body, and address U.S. tension with its European allies and with Iran and North Korea.  

During her tenure, the administration also withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. educational and scientific agency for adopting positions it deemed to be hostile to Israel.

Neither Haley nor President Donald Trump gave a specific reason for her late 2018 resignation, although the former governor was quick to tamp down any speculation she would mount a primary challenge to her soon-to-be former boss in 2020.

"I have given everything I've got these last eight years," she said, referring to her six years as South Carolina governor as well as her time at the U.N. "And I do think it's good to rotate in other people who can put that same energy and power into it."

"No, I'm not running in 2020" for president, she also added.

But the sudden announcement rattled some in the White House, who openly speculated the timing, just ahead of the midterm elections, was meant to preserve the ambassador's own political future. Trump said at the time the departure had been in the works for about six months, a timeline that coincided with a high-profile spat between Haley and the White House, when she drew the president's ire for previewing in a television appearance the administration's planned imposition of a new round of sanctions on Russia.

When the sanctions never materialized, White House officials said the plans had changed without Haley being briefed, and top economic adviser Larry Kudlow suggested Haley was confused.

"With all due respect, I don't get confused," Haley said in a sharply-worded rejoinder to the West Wing.

Part of that widely reported quote is the title of Haley's forthcoming book, "With All Due Respect," to be published in November .

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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