McChrystal Resigns, Obama Names Petraeus

Guests

Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR
Tom Gjelten, NPR intelligence and national security correspondent
Robert Dallek, presidential historian
Maj. Gen. Mike Davidson, former assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard Matters
Brad Warthen, political blogger

In a speech from the Rose Garden, President Obama announced he has relieved Gen. Stanley McChrystal of his duties as U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Obama said he believes it is "the right decision for our national security," and named Gen. David Petraeus to replace him.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

General McChrystal apologizes and gets fired. Joe Barton apologies for his apology, again. And after Huckabee's jokes about Palin, pot and coke, no apologies. It's Wednesday and time for a sorry edition of Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?

Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Former Republican Governor, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: And normally we begin with our political potpourri and a trivia question. We're going to postpone all that for a few minutes to focus on the big story of the day. Less than half an hour ago, President Obama relieved General Stanley McChrystal as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, that following the general's disparaging remarks about his civilian superiors in a profile in Rolling Stone.

President BARACK OBAMA: As difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe that it is the right decision for our national security. The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system, and it erodes the trust that's necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.

CONAN: President Obama speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House. He also said president General McChrystal will be replaced by General Petraeus, now serving as the head of U.S. Central Command. Effectively he was General McChrystal's superior.

Joining us here in Studio 3A is NPR political editor Ken Rudin, and Ken, there's a long history of disputes between American generals and the commander-in-chief. This one, though, did not involve policy differences but almost a question of attitude.

KEN RUDIN: Well, exactly. I mean, you always think of President Truman and Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War in 1951. Basically, that was implementing policy and which way how to fight the war.

I think General McChrystal and the president were on the same page, but as the president said over and over again, as a few have said over and over again the past couple days, that disparaging remarks coming from McChrystal and his staff that appeared in Rolling Stone just underscores the importance of civilian control of the military.

CONAN: And with us in the studio also is NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten. Tom, always nice to have you on the program.

TOM GJELTEN: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: And Tom, the issue of civilian control of the military, this is something that's, well, enshrined in American history.

GJELTEN: It's enshrined, Neal, and one of the things that I have found interesting is from Republicans and Democrats alike, from conservatives and liberals alike, there is vast agreement that that is a principle that needs to be upheld.

So there is, I think, very bipartisan support for this decision by President Obama to relieve General McChrystal of his command for that reason. Now, President Obama made a second point in addition to the one you just highlighted, which is that one of the things that he can't another thing that he cannot tolerate is division on his national security team.

He said debate is fine, division is unacceptable. I think at least as important as the insubordination issue here is the fact that General McChrystal and his aides made such disparaging comments about other members of the president's war-fighting team at a very critical moment.

CONAN: Indeed, the national security advisor was described as a clown by one of the general's staff, and there was a lot of, well, rolling of eyes and smirks about Richard Holbrooke, the special presidential envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and particularly angry language about the U.S. ambassador to Kabul.

GJELTEN: And the vice president, Joe Biden.

CONAN: And so these disputes are not going to go away with or let me put it another way: Is this a dispute of personality between General McChrystal and these officials, or does that hide a policy dispute between some of these officials and, well, we're going, I guess, the same policy with General Petraeus.

GJELTEN: Well, there are some lingering policy issues that date back to the review of Afghanistan policy last year when Vice President Biden, for example, led the charge against the surge, saying that a counterterrorism-lite policy should be sufficient.

But, you know, the president is the commander-in-chief, and he has made it clear that he is the one who sets the policy, and General Petraeus wholeheartedly supported the surge last year, and in selecting him, President Obama has a very loyal advocate of that policy now commanding U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan.

CONAN: And going back to the other question, those who said it's not the right time - no matter what General McChrystal may have said, it's too important a time in Afghanistan to be switching horses in midstream - are those arguments going to be assuaged by the appointment of General Petraeus to replace him?

GJELTEN: I think, Neal, that General Petraeus is the only person who could have been put in that position and take care of those arguments. Because he was General McChrystal's superior, he devised the policy in many ways that General McChrystal was carrying out. So there shouldn't really be any switching of horses in midstream.

We should point out that, you know, President Obama said this is a tribute to the service and patriotism and General Petraeus. He has taken a step down. He is going to be in a situation now where it's not inconceivable that his former deputy, General - Lieutenant General John Allen, will now be his superior as commander of Central Command, if he is if he is put in place as the new commander of Central Command.

Now, that's the new speculation: Who is going to be the new commander of Central Command? We've now resolved the issue of who's going to be running the war in Afghanistan. Who is going to be the new commander of Central Command?

CONAN: And you can't do them both. One is at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, and the other one is in Afghanistan.

GJELTEN: It's impossible to do both. I mean, we have potential conflict with Iran. We still have a war with Iraq. I don't see any way that Petraeus could wear both those hats.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Just quickly, President Karzai of Afghanistan from the beginning has said that he was a big fan of McChrystal, and I know he was upset t or reports said that he was upset by the firing of McChrystal. But I assume that with no change in policy coming from Petraeus, Karzai would be on board with...

CONAN: General Petraeus might be the one person who might assuage those wounds as well.

RUDIN: As Tom said, yes.

CONAN: Well, we want to hear from listeners. Is this the right call? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. But we also want to talk with Robert Dallek, a presidential historian and the author of biographies of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy and Harry S. Truman, and he joins us on the phone. Rob Dallek, nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. ROBERT DALLEK (Presidential Historian): Thank you, good to be with you.

CONAN: And I guess, as Ken mentioned, the moment everybody thinks of is the dismissal of Douglas MacArthur.

Mr. DALLEK: Yeah, of course, but that was a moment of high confrontation, and of course Harry Truman got a lot of flak over pulling MacArthur out of Korea and changing commanders there. But of course historians for a long time now have celebrated Truman's strength and wisdom in dismissing MacArthur when he did, on a couple of grounds.

One, of course, as Truman himself said, it was intolerable to have MacArthur defy the orders of the president and dispute his policy decisions and breach the gap between the civilian and military authority.

And the other, of course, was that MacArthur had the strategy drastically wrong. He wanted to go after China with possibly nuclear weapons, and Truman found that intolerable and wasn't going to sit still for it. And so of course he removed him from office, and the war in Korea of course ended as a miserable stalemate, and the great problem there was having crossed the Parallel and finding ourselves in this extended war with China.

But Truman acted wisely in pushing MacArthur out, and I think that President Obama has acted wisely also in pushing McChrystal out. But it's a very different situation, of course, and as your other guests have been saying, there really wasn't that great a dispute here about policy.

They were on the same page about policy, but it just was an attack, so to speak, on the president that had been...

CONAN: And you wrote in your, in an op-ed in the New York Times today, that this was not some, in your opinion, not some off-the-wall, you know, overheard remarks but a deliberate, as you just suggested, attack on the president.

Mr. DALLEK: Absolutely. This is a highly intelligent man, inconceivable to me, and apparently to the author of the Rolling Stone article, that this general would have just flippantly said the things he said and allowed his staff to say the kinds of things they said.

So I think what was going on was McChrystal saying we're on the same page as to policy, but we need a lot more of it. We need more men, we need more time, we need more resources, and we're faltering. And in essence he was saying, I think, I'm not going to take the fall. Look, there's a failure here, and he was challenging the president as to the strength of the commitment that he was making in Afghanistan.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Historians later said, of course, that President Truman made the right decision by sacking MacArthur, but at the time Truman suffered politically from it. What do you make of the president's, President Obama's decision to act quickly?

A lot of the criticism on Obama is that he often took his time in making any kind of decision. This time he acted very forthrightly and quickly.

Mr. DALLEK: Well, I think he his statement was a very strong one, and I think he's been given a great deal of political cover by having Petraeus replace McChrystal. Nobody's going to fault that, and I would guess that the Senate is going to act with great dispatch in confirming Petraeus.

So I think and also, it would have been politically a disaster, I think, for the president if he had not acted decisively here. It would have made him look weak and intemperate, and it would have strengthened this idea that he's someone who anguishes over a decision too much. So I think it's given him a lot of political cover by acting so decisively and forcefully.

CONAN: And Tom Gjelten, even if he had decided to keep General McChrystal on in this role, General McChrystal would clearly have been abashed, much reduced, as the commander in Afghanistan.

GJELTEN: It's very important for a commander overall, especially in a war, to have the respect and prestige of his command position. That's you know, I think that if he had stayed, it would have been very hard for him to command the respect of his subordinate officers and his troops, having said the things that he had said.

CONAN: Tom Gjelten, thanks very much for joining us today.

GJELTEN: Any time.

CONAN: We ppreciate it. NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten was with us here in Studio 3A. We're going to ask Robert Dallek to stay on with us just for a few more minutes, and we're going to continue with Political Junkie Ken Rudin as well. We'll get to the potpourri and the trivia question in a few minutes. So stay with us for that.

We do have this update. A spokesman for Afghan President Karzai, Waheed Omer, said: We had hoped this would not have happened, but the decision has been made, and we respect it. President Karzai looks forward to working with his replacement.

So that's the news from Kabul. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to the Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

A very busy day in Washington and in politics. We're talking with Ken Rudin, NPR political editor, our political junkie, who joins us every Wednesday. When he's not talking with us on the radio, you can find him on his blog and coming up with a new ScuttleButton puzzle at npr.org/junkie.

There's much more to talk about. We'll head to South Carolina a bit later and talk about the changing face of the Republican Party in the Palmetto State, and of course, the rest of the week in the political news and a trivia question.

But we're going to continue to focus on today's news out of the White House, President Obama's decision to fire his top general in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, 800-989-8255. Was this the right decision? Email talk@npr.org.

Robert Dallek, a presidential historian, is with us on the phone from his home here in Washington, D.C., and let's see if we can get Michael(ph) on the line. Michael's calling from Leipers Fort in Tennessee.

MICHAEL (Caller): Yes, sir, thank you.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

MICHAEL: Not a MacArthur-Truman moment because Truman, unlike Mr. Obama, served as a captain of artillery during the First World War. And Mr. Obama chose not to serve, like most of the folks on his team, including Vice President Biden.

And I say this as a Democrat, in fact as someone who used to work for Al Gore. And I just can't get any enthusiasm for working for Mr. Obama again.

CONAN: And so the fact that he did not serve in the military colors the decision of him as commander in chief, you feel?

MICHAEL: Yeah, in this case because unlike MacArthur, who challenged on policy, this is about Stan McChrystal, or rather some of his staff, making some annoying but accurate comments about Obama's staff. And this is really just a case of a bunch of personalities with overrated egos in D.C., in the White House, getting mad at someone who actually knows what he's doing.

CONAN: Robert Dallek, you were quoting Abraham Lincoln in your op-ed piece in the Times today. Of course, he had little military experience, some in the Black Hawk War when he was a young man, but little military experience compared to General McClellan, whom he placed in charge of the Army of the Potomac, and he at one point said: I would hold General McClellan's horse if he would deliver me a victory.

Mr. DALLEK: Yeah, well, that was in Doris Kearns Goodwin's article.

CONAN: Oh, I apologize, same page.

Mr. DALLEK: But, you know, Woodrow Wilson didn't have any military experience, and he led the country to victory in World War I. Franklin Roosevelt, true, was assistant secretary of the Navy, but he didn't have any direct military experience, and he led the country to victory in World War II.

So I don't know that a president needs to have served in the military in order to be an effective commander in chief. And I think there was more than just a case of clashing egos going on here.

There's a powerful precedent in this country of civilian control of the military. And as I said in my article, General George C. Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, they never would have allowed themselves to be caught in that kind of situation that McChrystal has been caught in, and they were too discrete for that. And they were too mindful of what the constitutional tradition is in this country about the separation of civil and military authority.

CONAN: And Michael...

MICHAEL: With respect, during - Marshall and Eisenhower and all those folks did not face 24-7 hour - 24-7 news cycle and the intrusiveness of the press - no offense - that we have today. They well controlled pretty I wouldn't say tame but a...

CONAN: The incident with General Patton was reported by the press. It was not reported by his superiors. In any case, Michael, this is a second instance of General McChrystal dissing his superiors, the famous speech in London, where he went out beyond authority and was called to task by President Obama on Air Force One.

MICHAEL: Well, I think folks need to look at the policy itself and not the personalities. I mean, General McChrystal and the folks in Afghanistan, including my brother, are being asked to do a whole lot with a lot less.

During the after December 7th, 1941, we fielded 16 million people under arms with half the population we have now. In Vietnam, we had over 500,000, and we were never attacked. In 9/11, we lost 3,000 folks, and we've sent a paltry less than 100,000 to Afghanistan.

CONAN: Michael, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

MICHAEL: Thank you.

CONAN: And Robert Dallek, as you continue to look at this situation, clearly there will be no change in policy, the counterinsurgency policy that General McChrystal almost embodied in Afghanistan. Well, it was already embodied by General David Petraeus when he was in Iraq.

Mr. DALLEK: Well, that's probably true. And the issue of course at the moment is that this policy doesn't seem to be going all that well. And the offensive conducted in Marja and the delay of the offensive in Kandahar and you know, the great German philosopher Hegel said that the only thing we ever learn from history is that we never learn.

And we don't seem to be taking any lessons from the British and the Soviet experiences in Afghanistan, and they had long years of effort in that country, and I just I have my doubts that we're going to be able to work our will.

And, you know, in Vietnam, which your caller had talked about, yeah, we put in 545,000 troops there, and what good did it do us at the end of the day? It was a failed war. Over 58,000 American troops died.

So is the prescription here to put in more and more forces and expend more and more money? And I don't think so. History would suggest that this is a difficult enterprise, and unless we can get this Afghan government to assume the burdens of fighting and policing in some country, I don't know that we can succeed.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Well, adding on to what Robert Dallek just said - and I think this is a very, very important point - President Obama made it clear that General Petraeus would not mean a change in policy from General McChrystal. But the question that Americans are probably asking themselves: Is this the policy that can work, will work and should work? And ultimately, Congress would have to step in and make some decisions here.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much, Robert Dallek. We appreciate your time today.

Mr. DALLEK: You're quite welcome. Thank you.

CONAN: Robert Dallek, a presidential historian, has written biographies of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy and Harry S. Truman, most recently, "Harry S. Truman: the 33rd President, 1945-1953."

Let's see if we can get another caller on the line, and this is Dan(ph), Dan with us from Virginia Beach.

DAN (Caller): Oh, yes, thank you. I don't know anything about this, but I -whether he should have been fired or not, but these are highly educated people, I mean, these officers, McChrystal and Petraeus. I mean, they've got degrees all over the wall.

And there's the stereotype of guys in locker rooms doing locker room talk or they're playing cards, and they're drinking, and they're sitting around, and they're making jokes and laughing about the president and the vice president and the envoy and the ambassador.

I don't know, I'm wondering what really happened because it just doesn't, it doesn't make any sense to me. I mean, unless these guys actually disgraced themselves. I mean, it sounds terrible if that's what they actually did, unless they're just sitting around...

CONAN: Ken, I think people were less surprised by what they had to say than that they allowed themselves to say it in the presence of a reporter when they knew they were on the record.

RUDIN: Absolutely. I mean, Dan makes a point. Sure, these things are probably said in locker rooms all the time, but he said it to a Rolling Stone reporter with a tape recorder right in front of him. It wasn't that he didn't know that everything he and his aides were saying were being reported by a reporter. As a matter of fact, they invited this reporter to come with them on subsequent trips to Afghanistan.

The lack of discipline shown by an ordinarily very disciplined General McChrystal, that's the startling thing of this whole story.

DAN: Wow, I mean, it's just hard to believe. But I'll take my comment off the air. I guess it's done. It's just hard to believe they were actually doing that and saying that. I just I'm...

CONAN: Oh, nobody has disputed the quotes.

RUDIN: Including McChrystal.

CONAN: Including McChrystal.

DAN: So this has all been they actually said all this stuff?

CONAN: On the record, in front of a reporter with a tape recorder.

DAN: Okay. I guess I have to I just boy, I'm just, okay, well, thanks. Thanks.

CONAN: Okay, Dan.

DAN: Bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email from Gabriel(ph): I served for eight years in the Navy as a veteran. I am sure that the president made the right decision. The chain of command must be respected, and General McChrystal failed to do that. He had to go.

This from Paul(ph) in Grand Rapids, Michigan: This seems to be an unfortunate combination of the official and unofficial spheres for McChrystal. Obama must deal with imminent criticism coming from a number of sources, including top advisors, congressmen and women, even military commanders. However, when McChrystal made his unofficial opinions official in the Rolling Stone magazine, Obama had to clarify the military power structure in an official matter, though I believe firing the general was taking that clarification one step too far.

And, well, this is going to be a continuing controversy. Ken, the Congress will have to act. They will have to confirm General Petraeus in his new position as the head of - well, it's not just the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but the head of the NATO command in Afghanistan as well. And they will have to find a successor for General Petraeus at Central Command as well.

RUDIN: That's true. But the Congress has tremendous respect and admiration for General Petraeus. And as Tom Gjelten said earlier on this program, both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, both were just so shocked and stunned by McChrystal's intemperate remarks that there was very little sentiment on Capitol Hill to have him stay.

CONAN: And we have another guest with us here in the studio. Retired Major General Mike Davidson, former assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard matters. He's the author of "Victory at Risk: Restoring America's Military Power: A New War Plan for the Pentagon," and a frequent guest on this program. General Mike, nice to have you back.

Mr. MIKE DAVIDSON (Retired Major General, U.S. Army; Author, "Victory at Risk: Restoring America's Military Power: A New War Plan for the Pentagon"): Well, thank you. It's great to be back.

CONAN: And your reaction to the news that General McChrystal has been relieved?

Mr. DAVIDSON: I know him. I like him. He's a very capable guy. He needed to be relieved. That was an enormous error in judgment on his part.

CONAN: An enormous error in judgment, to say or allow the things to be said? Most of the worst remarks were made by members of his staff.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Yeah, but they were made in his presence. And you don't let your staff officers talk about presidents that way, period.

CONAN: Period. No matter - even if they're not on the record with the reporter in the room?

Mr. DAVIDSON: No excuse for it.

CONAN: No excuse. So he will - presumably, he has resigned. That means he's out of the military?

Mr. DAVIDSON: He will. Congress will have to act for him to retire in his present grade. That should be pro forma at this point. Otherwise, he will retire as a two-star for retirement pay purposes. But he will be - he's a great soldier. He was doing a terrific job. He will be upset by the mission being set back. His personal career, I think, will probably not matter a great deal to him.

CONAN: But his successor is his superior, General David Petraeus.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Yes. But, also, you have to remember, David took the 141st into Iraq and was the first general officer that I know of that got serious about nation building and garnering support for the indigenous government, and that was when David was a two-star general. And we don't lose a lot in that skill set when David takes over in Afghanistan.

CONAN: It will be a new staff, though.

Mr. DAVIDSON: About half and I think it will happen pretty quickly.

CONAN: Yeah. We're talking with retired General Mike Davidson, political junkie Ken Rudin. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And how significant is it for General Petraeus to take seemingly a step back? He's CENTCOM commander, yes, a four-star rank and so is the commander in Afghanistan. But, nevertheless, he was General McChrystal's superior.

Mr. DAVIDSON: No step back at all. It won't occur to him. Afghanistan is our biggest fire and Petraeus is our best fireman, so I suspect in his heart of hearts he's not looking on this as a demotion in any sense.

CONAN: And let's get another caller on the line. This is John(ph), John with us from Fairfield in California.

JOHN (Caller): Good morning. I've listened to you guys for - oh, my gosh, every day for many, many years. I've spent 26 years in Army Special Forces, last six years in Afghanistan. I retired because I could no longer support the policies - the strangulation. And I saw some hope when Stan - I went through Special Forces school with Stan McChrystal. And I - he is an amazing man. He would have been able to carry out and possibly win this. And with the track record Petraeus has in Iraq, I think we're destined to lose in Afghanistan and be terribly embarrassed as were the Russians. But I have a great deal of remorse.

And I want people to know that Stan McChrystal is a fine, fine man. And he's a hell of a soldier. And he has done nothing but bring credit to his country, to his uniform, to Special Forces.

And, you know, I think, we're on a downward spiral with the current administration. And I'm kind of wound up right now and I'm...

CONAN: I know he was your friend, John, I know you know him, but could the president have kept him in his command after this?

JOHN: I think what needs to be seen is, when you have someone who has no possible understanding of military operations at all, you kind of have to cut that loose. And you kind of have to let them go their own way.

CONAN: Even if they...

JOHN: And...

CONAN: Even if they - the president is a constitutional scholar. He does read the Constitution. He knows he's command-in-chief.

JOHN: Oh, he certainly does. But he has no knowledge at all of military operations. And for him to...

CONAN: I don't mean to cut you off, but we're running short of time in this segment. I want to get...

JOHN: I understand completely. Yeah.

CONAN: I wanted to get General Davidson's take on this.

Mr. DAVIDSON: John, I agree with you in your high assessment of McChrystal. He's a great soldier. He's a great special operator. But the president is in command. And as you remember Schwarzkopf used to say: When you're in command, take command. And I think the president had very little choice. These were not military issues that McChrystal was relieved of. They were judgment issues.

CONAN: And once the president has lost the confidence in his commander - and he said, even yesterday, that he had made a grave error - at that point, it gets difficult for anybody to operate.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Yeah. And if you're going to be in command - remember, we got a lot of other folks out there looking for leadership from the president. If the president rolled on this, there goes your leadership.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: General Davidson, how much of this was also a signal to U.S. allies who are contributing troops to Afghanistan, letting them know that there would be no dissention on policy?

Mr. DAVIDSON: I think that's a key point. I think you're absolutely right. And remember, we're going to succeed or fail in the mission in Afghanistan based on the performance of the Karzai government. We can't kill people to a victory on this. That's not what will resolve the issue.

CONAN: General Mike, as always, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate that you ran over here. We appreciate your time. General Mike Davidson, his book is "Victory at Risk: Restoring America's Military Power: A New War Plan for the Pentagon."

Political junkie Ken Rudin is going to stay with us. When we get back, we're going to focus on, well, the political news of the week, the other political news of the week, and go to the news from South Carolina as well.

Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: And now we're going to continue our conversation with political junkie Ken Rudin. And for the rest of the time, we're going to focus on the political news of the week. In a few minutes, we'll get to the big story from the runoffs yesterday, that in South Carolina.

But, Ken, there's been - one of the interesting stories since we were last on from New Hampshire a week ago - it seems like so long ago - that, of course, Joe Barton, the top Republican - on the committee, apologizing to British Petroleum.

RUDIN: It was pretty remarkable. And it was a field day for the Democratic Party because the president, Obama, was on the defensive, the administration unable to stem the spill. Basically, they were just flailing. A lot of people thought that, yes, he gave a speech but ultimately the oil was still flowing. And here we have Joe Barton who's the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee apologizing to BP chairman Tony Hayward and saying that, basically, you know, it's a shakedown what the administration's doing and things like that, which embarrassed the Republican Party.

CONAN: And here's what he had to say.

Representative JOE BARTON (Republican, Texas; Ranking Member, Energy and Commerce Committee): I'm only speaking for myself. I'm not speaking for anybody else, but I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, is subject to some sort of political pressure, that is, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize.

CONAN: A shakedown. Well, then, later that same day, Congressman Barton issued some - one the most convoluted apologies for his apology I have ever misconstrued and misconstructed in my life. And then today, Ken, he was called back in and apologized behind closed doors to members of the Republican caucus.

RUDIN: Yes. And also, not many people would know this, but he also apologized to Algeria after the World Cup.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: So I don't think people even realize this. But also what's strange about this is that at the same time, he put something on his Twitter account that gave a link to an article that said Joe Barton was right. So it's an apology with a wink almost. And, ultimately, a lot of people think that the only reason he apologized was to keep his position as ranking member on Energy and Commerce and that's what happened today.

CONAN: And a primary yesterday in Utah where, as usual in that state, the big contest was in the Republican Party.

RUDIN: Right. And the big story, of course, happened in May when the Senator Bob Bennett failed to get enough support to even qualify for yesterday's primary. Yesterday's primary was between two conservative Republicans. Mike Lee defeated Tim Bridgewater - Mike Lee backed by Tea Party. This is a state that has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1970. Mike Lee will be the next senator from Utah.

CONAN: Runoff yesterday in North Carolina.

RUDIN: Yes. As for the - we've seen Republican Senator Richard Burr. The Democrats are Elaine Marshall, the secretary of state. She handily defeated Cal Cunningham for state senator who had been backed by the party establishment in Washington, thinking he might be a stronger candidate against Elaine Marshall.

CONAN: And news from a runoff in Alabama.

RUDIN: Yes, finally, we do know who's going to go into the Republican runoff. By the way, there will be no primaries or runoffs until July 13th. Whew. That will...

CONAN: What are we going to talk about, Ken?

RUDIN: Okay. Plenty. Believe me. That will be in Alabama, but it will be Robert Bentley against Bradley Byrne, very household names, I think, in their households for the Republican nomination for governor. Tim James was not included in the runoff. He was the guy who did that controversial ad about immigration.

CONAN: And you mentioned a big win for Sarah Palin in a lot of places yesterday and Tea Party candidates. Indian-American Nikki Haley was the subject of slanders and accusations of infidelity yet won the runoff in South Carolina for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, some think, in large part because of a, well, a very significant endorsement.

Representative NIKKI HALEY (Republican, South Carolina; Gubernatorial Candidate): I want to thank Governor Sarah Palin who has showed the entire country...

(Soundbite of cheering)

Rep. NIKKI HALEY: ...who showed the entire country what it means to use the power of your voice. And she gave us that boost we needed when we needed it.

CONAN: And joining us now is Brad Warthen, the former editor and blogger at The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, and now runs his own website dedicated to South Carolina politics. And he joins us today from the studios of ETV Radio in Columbia. Nice to have you with us.

Mr. BRAD WARTHEN (Blogger, bradwarthen.com): Good to be here.

CONAN: And, well, that Palin endorsement was a key moment in the Haley campaign.

Mr. WARTHEN: It really was. And I was there that day. And, you know, when you cover politics long enough, you get a feeling for when a candidate's on a roll. And aside from Sarah Palin being there, Nikki Haley was a candidate who knew that she was hitting her peak.

I mean, she was really hitting her stride at that moment, full of confidence, full of poise - and from that moment it's all been upward for her.

CONAN: Though whispering campaigns have been, well, a feature, one has to conclude, in South Carolina politics in the past, there were whispering campaigns and indeed open accusations from some people as well - accusations of infidelity, accusations that maybe this candidate was not the Christian that she said she was.

Mr. WARTHEN: Yes, there was and, actually, I think the impact of that was to cause a lot of excitement around Nikki and a lot of sympathy for her. And in the end, it probably helped her.

For one thing, it drew in a lot of national attention to the race, and very quickly, the whole accusations of scandal moved aside and it became about this exciting candidate, an Indian-American woman, about to win the Republican nomination.

CONAN: And Ken?

RUDIN: Two things. First of all, I actually thought that the big move - the biggest thing for - or the earliest thing for Nikki Haley was endorsement by Jenny Sanford...

Mr. WARTHEN: Yes.

RUDIN: ...the former wife of Mark Sanford. And that seemed to put her on the national platform that I never heard before. But also, the fact is, is that 2012, in South Carolina it will be, as always, the first big Republican presidential primary state, and Nikki Haley may be in the driver's seat. Both Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin have endorsed her.

Mr. WARTHEN: Absolutely, which is, you know, it's an example of the craziness of national politics, that people are already talking about that. You know, Nikki is a very engaging young woman who is a sophomore member of the legislature. You know, and she - her accomplishments and her understanding of issues are about what you expect at that level. And now, all of a sudden, we're talking about national...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WARTHEN: ...national ambitions. It's just kind of wild.

CONAN: Right. She was, of course, boosted by business Sanford and hurt by the endorsement press by Governor Sanford. In any case, this is a day also that Michael Steele was very proud about, because not only was an Indian-American woman - if she's elected, she would be the second Indian-American Republican governor of the state...

Mr. WARTHEN: That's right.

CONAN: ...but also an African-American nominated by the Republican Party for Congress in the state of South Carolina, for the first time since reconstruction.

Mr. WARTHEN: And that's a tremendous narrative here. I mean, he beat Strom Thurmond's son. And he beat him like a drum.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WARTHEN: And so, you know, a little notice that all the scandals and the back and the forth and the things we talked about 24/7 on Twitter, is this historic shift that is happening in South Carolina. I mean, it really does mean something that a black man can run as a Republican in South Carolina and beat the son of Strom Thurmond.

CONAN: It is an extraordinary change for the face of the - the Republican Party has enormous advantages in the state of South Carolina, yet with Governor Sanford's problems and the unwillingness of the legislature there to install his lieutenant governor to replace him, it looked like the party was in considerable disarray. The picture looks completely different today.

Mr. WARTHEN: It does, although we're still providing plenty of grist for John Stewart. He's really enjoying us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, a lot of people provide grist for John Stewart.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Bread also is something also to watch, something to talk about in the fourth congressional district. We have another incumbent going down to defeat: Bob Inglis.

Mr. WARTHEN: That's stunning. You know, and Bob Inglis is a guy - I mean, he is as conservative as a day is long. He is not fashionably conservative at the moment. This is a guy that when he first went to Congress - and this is the first time I've ran into this in my career.

When he first went to Congress, he voted against highway money for South Carolina. I mean, that's how conservative, how seriously, fiscally conservative this guy is.

And he's always been very principled, but he has done some things. Because he is principled, because he thinks for himself, because is not an automaton, he has really gotten the Tea Party faction against him.

I mean, you know, he voted for the TARP. He did other things, such as he opposed General Petraeus' surge in Iraq. And he was one of the very few Republicans that - I think the only one in the South Carolina delegation - who actually said that Jerry Wilson should apologize for his you lie remark.

RUDIN: Right.

Mr. WARTHEN: And - I don't know if you call it a remark when it's shouted, but...

RUDIN: Outburst.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WARTHEN: Outburst. But that's stunning. I mean, he got less than 30 percent of the vote. And, you know, if anyone doubted that experience and long-time commitment to conservative principles doesn't mean a whole lot in the GOP this year, they just need to look at Bob Inglis.

CONAN: As we look ahead to November is Nikki Haley - again the Republican Party has a great registration advantages in the state of South Carolina. She -considered the favorite, is she considers, shoe in?

Mr. WARTHEN: She is the favorite. For one thing, she is the Republican, and we've always seen a Democratic governor elected once in the last 20 years, and that was Jim Hodges, and he was against a very politically damaged Republican in 1998.

But in addition to that, there is the buzz that Nikki Haley has. There's a lot of excitement about her, nationally. And what is Vincent Sheheen, the Democratic nominee, going to do to overcome the fact that Nikki Haley is going to be regularly on national 24/7 television and doesn't have to spend a dime on media.

I mean, that's - that is a very bad situation to be in if you're Vincent Sheheen.

CONAN: And as you look ahead to the political futures come November, of the other Republicans who won the congressional nominations yesterday, well, I gather I least one of them is considered an absolute mortal lock.

Mr. WARTHEN: Well, probably several of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WARTHEN: Are we talking about Joe Wilson?

CONAN: Yeah. Joe Wilson.

Mr. WARTHEN: Yes, absolutely, and his son won the nomination for attorney general last night. Joe is as strong as ever. His opponent who's facing him, Rob Miller, faced him two years ago and was not a particularly strong candidate, did not do that well in spite of Obama's strong showing; even though Obama didn't win South Carolina, he still got a lot of votes here. And that, you know, as much as, you know, millions of dollars flowed to Rob Miller after the you lie incident.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WARTHEN: But even more money flowed to Joe Wilson, from all over the country. And he's as strong as he ever was.

CONAN: We're talking with - about South Carolina politics with Brad Warthen, a former editor and blogger at the state newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, now a political blogger at Bradwarthen.com. And you're listening to the Political Junkie segment on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ken?

RUDIN: Brad, can you go out on a limb? You say that Jim DeMint defeats Alvin Greene?

Mr. WARTHEN: Yeah. You know - wait a minute, let me think. Yeah, I think you're right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: I mean, we did see the unlikely outcome, some Democrats tried to overturn the result because they just couldn't believe it happened.

Mr. WARTHEN: Yeah. Well, Vic Rawl, the guy who lost, tried to overturn it. It was - and you've got all these accusations, like from Jim Clyburn, you know, saying that it's conspiracy. And, yeah, well, it's suspicious that the guy came up with $10,000 for a filing fee. But 100,000 people voted for him, and it's a little hard to fix that, although we've had some rumbling about, well, it's a glitch in the electronic voting.

But that is stunning. It's testimony to the fact that Democrats were so convinced that Jim DeMint was invulnerable this year that they just paid absolutely no attention. And Alvin Greene's name was on the ballot first - and so he won.

CONAN: If he wins in November, I suspect we'll find out more about glitches in the electoral voting machine.

Mr. WARTHEN: Yes. Yes. I think the Republicans are going to be calling for a little investigation.

CONAN: Brad Warthen, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Mr. WARTHEN: Thank you.

CONAN: Brad Warthen, as we mentioned, a - now runs his own website dedicated to South Carolina politics, Bradwarthen.com, and joined us today from ETV Radio in Columbia, South Carolina.

And Ken, a couple of things that we did not get to. In the Colorado GOP primary, a former lieutenant governor, Jane Norton, well, there's a new poll out suggesting that the Tea Party candidate in that race is being favored over the - what you might call the establishment party?

RUDIN: Well, we've seen this before. We saw this Kentucky with Trey Greyson who was not supposed to - who was supposed to beat Rand Paul and didn't. We saw this with Charlie Crist in Florida, when the establishment backed him earlier -now, he's no longer a Republican. And that's the same thing with Jane Norton. This guy, Ken Buck has backed the Tea Party, and he says that Jane Norton is far too liberal. And a new Denver Post poll has him up well over Jane Norton in the August primary.

CONAN: And the - there's news in the Arizona race for U.S. Senate. The challenger, the man challenging the former congressman, challenging John McCain, now tied up in the complaints about an infomercial that he appeared on.

RUDIN: Yes, and that's a subject of a new John McCain commercial, which is obviously (unintelligible)...

CONAN: J.C. Hayworth, right?

RUDIN: Right, J.C. Hayworth - out to embarrass - Hayworth. And speaking of J.C. Hayworth, you know, one of the reasons he lost his seat in 2006 was his involvement with Jack Abramoff. Jack Abramoff is not only out of prison right now, he's working for a kosher pizza parlor in Baltimore. I think, obviously, he's still in the dough, I guess (unintelligible)...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: ...rolling a dough, but in a different way, I guess.

CONAN: Spinning the dough - anyway. But, yes, Jack Abramoff in a halfway house and, I guess, working at a pizza parlor. There was also, we mentioned at the top of the show, some - well, interesting remarks by both Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, your fellow news - Fox News commentator, Mike Huckabee, noted that Sarah Palin had appeared on a television program with Ron Paul, the congressman from Texas, the father of Rand Paul, the candidate in Kentucky.

RUDIN: I'm following you, so far.

CONAN: So far - in any case. And he'd asked her about legalizing marijuana, a position that he endorses as a former libertarian. And she said, well, she doesn't favor legalizing marijuana because it would provide a poor example for America's youth, however...

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Former Republican Governor, Alaska): And if somebody's going to smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody else any harm, then perhaps there are other things that our cops should be looking at to engage in and not concentrate on such a, relatively speaking, minimal problem that we have in the country.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Talk show host, "Huckabee"): I want you to know that Bill Schulz is dancing on the table right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUCKABEE: After Sarah Palin made these comments, she then produced a gram coke from her purse and made line after line on the glass table. Terrible?

Unidentified Man: What? What?

CONAN: Well, that last part was clearly a joke.

RUDIN: Mike Huckabee does have a prosody(ph) to say whatever he thinks. I mean, you know, I don't know, even though people like that myself, but I don't know anybody who would do that. But he is engaging, amusing and sometimes could be very out of his mind, in the sense that in politics, if you want to get ahead, you have to - you have to have some kind of measure of control. And often, Mike Huckabee, does not have that control.

CONAN: Well then, Fox's commentator, and likely to stay that way and not considered, at this moment, to be likely to repeat his challenge for the Republican presidential nomination that he mounted last time around.

Ken Rudin, as always, thanks very much for your time today.

RUDIN: I understand there will be a trivia question next week.

CONAN: There will be a trivia question next week. I apologize for not getting around to that this week, but we were so overwhelmed by the news of the day. And again, that's General Stanley McChrystal being relieved of his command in Afghanistan by President Obama, who today accepted his resignation, and appointed General David Petraeus to replace him in that post. More on that, obviously, later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Ken Rudin will be back with us next week as the Political Junkie, maybe just a normal week of politics. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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