'Just think of it as church': Nikki Haley describes how the discussion over Trump's 'Little Rocket Man' nickname for Kim Jong-un played out

University of Chicago/YouTubeNikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, during a moderated discussion at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.
  • US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley recounted when President Donald Trump bestowed the infamous “Little Rocket Man” nickname on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
  • Haley, who appeared to find the incident amusing, said Trump called to ask for her opinion about using the nickname during a speech at the UN General Assembly.
  • Haley said after Trump mentioned the nickname on Twitter and during his UN speech, other heads of state began referring to Kim as Little Rocket Man, also.

During a moderated discussion at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics on Thursday, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, recounted when President Donald Trump pitched a cheeky nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Trump initially referred to Kim as “Rocket Man” in a tweet in September: “I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad,” Trump said at the time.

Haley said she discussed the nickname with Trump ahead of his first speech at the UN General Assembly: “He tweeted it out so I didn’t know it was coming then,” Haley said, laughing. She said Trump called her for advice about the upcoming UN speech, during which she counseled the president on how best to approach the occasion.

“I said, ‘OK now, Mr. President, you need to understand this is a serious crowd. They’re not going to rally, they’re not going to cheer, that’s just not who these people are. So don’t take it the wrong way,” Haley recalled.

“I said, ‘Just think of it as church,'” she added.

According to Haley, Trump asked, “what do you think about me saying ‘Little Rocket Man’ in the speech?”

“I said, ‘Well, it’s kind of a formal crowd,'” Haley recounted. “‘It would be different.'”

Haley appeared to suggest that Trump was not convinced: “He said, ‘I think it’s catchy, I think it works,'” Haley said.

Indeed, the text of Trump’s speech included the phrase “Rocket Man.”

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said at the UN General Assembly in New York. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

Haley then described a surprising reaction from UN officials following Trump’s comment.

“After he said it at the General Assembly, literally, heads of state are referring to him as Little Rocket Man,” Haley said. “I had an African president that I met with right after and he’s not even using Kim’s name. He’s calling him Little Rocket Man.”

“You know, it works,” Haley said.

Trump reportedly said he did not give Kim the nickname in jest, and believed it could be taken as a compliment, not an insult, according to people who attended a Republican fundraiser dinner in September.

When Kim parried Trump’s UN speech with a personal message to Trump in which he called him a “dotard,” Trump said he decided to ratchet up his own rhetoric in response: “So I said, all right, so now I’ll call him Little Rocket Man,” Trump said at the dinner, according to The Washington Post.

Trump test-drove the amended moniker at a September 2017 rally in Huntsville, Alabama.

“We can’t have madmen out there shooting rockets all over the place,” Trump said at the rally. “This shouldn’t be handled now, but I’m gonna handle it because we have to handle it. Little Rocket Man.”

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