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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: RICH LOWRY, NATIONAL REVIEW; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; MONICA CROWLEY, WASHINGTON TIMES; PETER BEINART, AUTHOR, "THE ICARUS SYNDROME" TAPED: FRIDAY, JUNE 25, 2010 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF JUNE 26-27, 2010

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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: McChrystal Axed.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) I accepted General Stanley McChrystal's resignation as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The move came after General McChrystal and his aides made objectionable remarks about the Obama administration in -- get this -- Rolling Stone Magazine. As McChrystal's successor, President Obama tapped the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) General Petraeus fully participated in our review last fall, and he both supported and helped design the strategy that we have in place. This is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama then laid out that policy.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) We have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban's momentum.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So what is the U.S. policy towards the Taliban?

MR. LOWRY: The policy is to break their momentum. And I think that's the right way to phrase it. You're not going to have a defeat in the classic sense where you kill every last Talib. You're not going to have them surrender as one. What you want to do is break their momentum. They've been gaining it, meaning they've been gaining capability and the government's capability has been shrinking. You want to reverse that, shrink the Taliban down to the point where it's manageable by the government of Afghanistan.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So --

MR. LOWRY: Look, this is a difficult task, but Obama made the right move sending Petraeus there. Now he needs to have a better civilian and diplomatic team in place, and he's going to walk back his deadline, which has played disastrously on the ground.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he's implicitly and explicitly admitting that the Taliban cannot be defeated.

MR. LOWRY: Well, they can be defeated the way you defeat an insurgency, the way we've mostly defeated an insurgency in Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's going to slow the momentum.

MR. LOWRY: Right. But what you do is you slow their momentum until they're a relatively isolated group of extremists. We've seen this happening in Iraq. It's more or less happened in Colombia. Are those insurgencies disappeared and gone and, quote-unquote, "defeated"? No. But as a practical matter, the government has defeated them as an existential threat.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Russians tried this for 14 years and were defeated at the end, and they withdrew.

MS. CLIFT: Well, maybe it's time to reassess the policy. But the Rolling Stone article that precipitated this personnel change was trash talking members of the administration. But General McChrystal did not trash talk the policy. The policy remains. And General Petraeus, as the president said, is one of the architects, the key architect of this policy. He made it work in Iraq.

The problem is Afghanistan is very different from Iraq. In Iraq there are two or three ethnic groups. There are hundreds of tribes in Afghanistan. So far the war is going badly. But General Petraeus is the indispensable man. If he cannot make it work, nobody can. And therefore, if he can step up after a period of time and says, "This isn't working," I think he gives the president an exit route if clearly this is a failing policy.

We don't know that yet, but the assessment will be made, I think, now and again later this year because this whole brouhaha has put the war back in the headlines. And this June is the deadliest month in this nine-year war. So it's time we paid attention.

MS. CROWLEY: General McChrystal's mistake was actually -- it actually opened up a providential opportunity for the president and for General Petraeus. I think Obama did make the right move here. I think it was a master stroke to put Petraeus in. And remember, Petraeus actually accepted a demotion as commander of U.S. Central Command to take over the Afghanistan effort.

There has to be and I think Petraeus is actually going to press for a lot of changes in strategy and tactics. First and foremost, as Rich points out, he's going to argue to Obama, "You've got to lift that self-imposed withdrawal deadline. You've got to give me a relatively open-ended commitment from this administration that I can go and do what I need to do here to make this thing work."

Secondly, counterinsurgency. Why we are failing in Afghanistan is because it's been a population-centric approach. What Petraeus has learned from Iraq and the success there is that that has to be coupled with an enemy-centric approach. That's what Petraeus is going to bring to the game, and also the change in the rules of engagement, John, so that our troops are not hamstrung on the ground, and local commanders have greater leeway to do what they need to do.

And let's not forget another big component of this, which is Pakistan. And I think General Petraeus is going to lean on the president to say, "You've got to couple these changes in strategy and tactics with a really more aggressive approach to Pakistan, because they're exploiting this to try to get a foothold into Afghanistan."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: General Beinart, before I turn to you -- (laughter) -- is Karzai the key?

MR. LOWRY: You got a promotion. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Karzai the exit key?

AFGHAN PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI: (From videotape.) Those within the Taliban leadership structure who, again, are not part of al Qaeda or the terrorist networks or ideologically against Afghanistan's progress and are willing to march ahead with the rest of their people in their country towards a better future for Afghanistan are welcome.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with President Obama two months ago at the White House. He addressed the travail of the decade-long war in Afghanistan and also the Obama-Karzai plan to end the U.S. war against the al Qaeda within the Taliban. And President Obama gave his stamp of approval.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) The United States supports the efforts of the Afghan government to open the door to Taliban who cut their ties to al Qaeda, abandon violence and accept the Afghan constitution, including respect for human rights.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Karzai cuts the deal with the Taliban. He deals with them. That's our reason for exiting. The war is over. What about that?

MR. BEINART: Except with the balance of forces on the ground today, what the deal would look like would essentially be a more Taliban government than a Karzai government. It would not be a government that we could have any confidence would not, in fact, be in league with al Qaeda. That's why -- the idea is that we can shift the balance of forces enough to get a deal that we'd like. And I think that's a pipe dream.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Isn't that Karzai's problem? Can Karzai cut the right deal? Karzai can bring the Taliban into the government.

MR. BEINART: Karzai is an extremely weak figure. Karzai also has no -- virtually no interest in fighting this war. Remember, the whole premise of counterinsurgency doctrine is they have to own it. It has to be their war. That's exactly -- what is going on is exactly the opposite in Afghanistan today. Karzai didn't even know which provinces we were fighting in, according to the Rolling Stone article.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you were counseling the president, would you counsel him to tell Karzai not to cut a deal with the Taliban? Or would you not see that as your exit route?

MR. BEINART: I don't -- look, we have --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Obama has to get out.

MR. BEINART: The fact --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is going to be his Vietnam. MR. BEINART: The fact that Karzai wants to cut a deal with the Taliban is evidence of the fact that our strategy is going to fail. There is going to be some kind of deal. It's going to be a very bad deal. And we're not going to be able to change it --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay --

MS. CLIFT: John --

MR. LOWRY: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, please.

The cost of the war. The U.S. military in Afghanistan: 1,136 dead. U.S. military amputeed, severely injured, injured, mentally ill in Afghanistan, 6,469. Federal dollars spent on the war: $300 billion. Length of the war: 104 months -- eight years and eight months.

Question: In his '08 campaign for president, President Obama staked his presidential credibility on victory in Afghanistan. Does he regret that he made that promise or that commitment? Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I don't know that he used the word "victory," but I don't know how you would define victory. And I think that's what the administration has to concentrate on is what --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Victory is our exit.

MS. CLIFT: -- what are the goals and how do you accomplish them. And I think the fight on Capitol Hill is going to be over the withdrawal date, beginning in July of 2011. That is entirely appropriate, because you cannot have an open-ended war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Afghanistan Obama's Vietnam?

MR. LOWRY: No. No. That's ridiculous. It's way too soon to say that. A couple of things --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Way too soon?

MR. LOWRY: A couple of things, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've lost 1,000 --

MR. LOWRY: A couple of things. One, we've paid a terrible price, obviously. You have to honor those men and women who have made that sacrifice. Eleanor points out casualties have gone up recently. This is exactly the same thing that happened in the surge in Iraq. When you have more troops carrying the fight to the enemy, you get more casualty -- casualties. And it takes some time to see the results of that. What Karzai is doing -- Karzai doesn't look any worse or any weaker than Maliki did before the surge in Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the --

MR. LOWRY: He's just hedging his bets, partly because of this deadline.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the strategic value of Afghanistan to us?

MS. CROWLEY: Well, remember, Afghanistan was the launching pad for the September 11th attacks. So what President Bush was arguing and what President Obama continues to argue is that we cannot allow Afghanistan to fall back into the hands of terrorist and extremist forces.

And, look, remember that during the campaign --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, they're going to -- they can be --

MS. CROWLEY: During the campaign --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They can develop as terrorists without assuming that status.

MS. CROWLEY: Look, I understand that argument, because we have extremist elements all over --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We can also defend our shores --

MS. CROWLEY: -- including here in the United States --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- rather than marching all over the world.

MS. CROWLEY: -- as we have seen recently. But, look, during the campaign, the reason that Obama had to go forward with the surge in Afghanistan was that he juxtaposed Afghanistan vis-a-vis Iraq. Iraq was the bad war. Afghanistan was the good war. This was a political calculation to accept, which was a Bush-Cheney recommendation of the 30,000-troop surge into Afghanistan.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me.

MS. CROWLEY: That's why the position of --

MS. CLIFT: That was not a political -- it was a not --

MS. CROWLEY: This was a strictly political move, Eleanor.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor in. MS. CLIFT: It was not a political calculation. We were losing the war in Afghanistan, a war that the Bush-Cheney administration should have done --

MS. CROWLEY: Correct.

MS. CLIFT: -- in those opening --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We cannot win the war in Afghanistan.

Can we accept that?

MS. CLIFT: And I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can we accept that as a premise?

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can we win in Afghanistan? No.

MR. BEINART: The fight against al Qaeda is actually mostly going on in Pakistan. That -- in Pakistan cities and in Pakistan's tribal areas --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the point?

MR. BEINART: -- and is being fought with drones.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the point?

MR. BEINART: The point is, it's not that there's absolutely no terrorist threat in Afghanistan. But if you look at the unbelievable amount of money and lives we are putting into trying to rebuild Afghanistan, it is not in direct -- not in good relationship to the actual terrorist threat that's there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think we should be out of there.

MR. BEINART: I think we have no choice. This country is not going to sustain -- it's not going to sustain an open-ended, endless counterinsurgency campaign.

MR. LOWRY: Yes, it will. It will if it's succeeding.

MR. BEINART: Rich, your entire argument -- with all due respect, your entire argument is based on a faulty analogy with Iraq. That's the only argument that people have for this case, and the analogy doesn't work. The whole point that -- things changed in Iraq because the Sunnis switched sides because they had no choice. There's no analogue to that in Afghanistan.

MS. CLIFT: Right. And Iraq -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --

MS. CLIFT: -- may still be getting ready to have their civil war once we get out.

MR. LOWRY: Afghanistan started -- Afghanistan looked okay until '05 and '06. It started deteriorating. The idea that it has to continually deteriorate forever is just -- it's rampant fatalism.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think it's --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think it's winnable?

MS. CROWLEY: You know what? With the right --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It is unwinnable.

MS. CROWLEY: John --

MR. LOWRY: You can get the Taliban to the point where it's not an existential threat --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's -- you know all the reasons why.

MR. LOWRY: -- to the government, and it's a manageable insurgency.

MS. CROWLEY: With the right strategy --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Manageable? What are we going to do, stay over there --

MR. LOWRY: Sure. And then the Afghans fight it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and lose another thousand lives?

MR. LOWRY: The Afghans fight it.

MS. CROWLEY: John, with the right strategy, the right combination of forces on the ground and the right general, it is.

MR. BEINART: Do you know what the irony of this is?

MS. CROWLEY: And your question --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you hear what General Beinart said?

MR. LOWRY: (Laughs.)

MS. CROWLEY: Your question about Karzai throwing in his lot with the Taliban -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, exit question --

MR. LOWRY: You're going to give him another star, aren't you? He'll be a two-star general now. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. On a political damage scale, zero to 10, zero meaning zero damage, 10 meaning politically dead, how much could the Afghanistan war, as things stand now, hurt Obama?

MR. LOWRY: Well, it depends on whether he succeeds or fails.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Give me a zero.

MR. LOWRY: Well, look, it depends on whether he succeeds or fails. If he sees this through and succeeds, it'll be a benefit. If he loses, it won't.

MS. CLIFT: It hasn't hurt him yet. He's now --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're sure of that?

MS. CLIFT: He's now got the general who is the last best hope to make it work. If that doesn't work and Petraeus sucks us in further, I think it has the potential --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: McChrystal --

MS. CLIFT: -- of overwhelming this presidency. I would give it an eight.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But this was McChrystal's auchtgaba (sp), his special area, and he knew it even more than Petraeus. Petraeus has to get up to speed.

MS. CLIFT: Petraeus was McChrystal's boss.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's his doctrine. But it was implemented by --

MS. CLIFT: Yes, but Petraeus was McChrystal's boss, and he is keeping in mind the whole region. He's looking at Pakistan and Iran. And so I think he has a better perspective of putting -- looking at the big picture, which may --

MR. BEINART: And even more than that --

MS. CLIFT: -- which may include --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Monica, we're going to go to you now.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, look, a million things could happen. If you're going to ask me for a number, I would say five. But this really depends --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's that number?

MS. CROWLEY: It's five. I'm splitting the baby. I'm wimping out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what is it? A calculation of what?

MS. CROWLEY: It depends on whether or not the commander in chief is going to give the new commanding general, Petraeus, the time and resources he needs in order to do this.

You asked about Hamid Karzai. The reason he's throwing his lot with the Taliban is because Obama set a time line for withdrawal. He's going to need the Taliban to deal with the ethnic and tribal and political consequences of an American exit.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Peter.

MR. BEINART: I think this really may go down as actually the worst week of the Obama presidency, because by bringing in Petraeus, he's actually put in someone who is so powerful -- and Petraeus will be valuable in sustaining public support for the war at home more than McChrystal has.

But what he's done is he's put in someone who powerful that I think he may end up having to renege on that June deadline and go all in on counterinsurgency, even though I think he does not want to. And once he does that, then his presidency is going to rise and fall, quite likely, on what happens in Afghanistan. And because I'm pessimistic about Afghanistan, I think that's a grim possibility.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're talking about mid-year next year.

MR. BEINART: I think this is going to define -- this would well define him all the way into his second term.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It'll kill him. MR. BEINART: I don't think it -- I wouldn't go quite that far, but I think it's right now the single biggest danger to his presidency.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is his Vietnam, and he's got to get out of there. And the best way out is to let the president of Afghanistan cut a deal with the Taliban.

MR. BEINART: And the Pakistanis.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And then -- we're happy to help you, but now it's your baby.

Issue Two: Moratorium No More.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) I've issued a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling. We need to know the facts before we allow deepwater drilling to continue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama last month issued a six-month moratorium on all seabed oil drilling that goes 500 feet or deeper below the level of the sea. But this week a federal judge in Louisiana ruled that the Department of the Interior had failed to provide any adequate -- (audio break) -- Judge Martin Feldman struck it down.

Quote: "The blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed, and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger. The court is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings and the immense scope of the moratorium," unquote.

The immense scope of the moratorium is not only a matter of physics, but a matter of economics. Listen to this.

Drilling platforms closed: 33. Wages lost, July to December, the upcoming six months: $1 (billion) to $2 billion. Jobs lost in the Gulf, July to December, the upcoming six months: 46,000.

Question: Why is Obama insistent on a moratorium? Why didn't he grab this opportunity to reverse course? I ask you, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Well, he asked for a moratorium because there are many drills that are drilling in the deep water, like the BP drill, that we do not have adequate safety backup plans for. And we saw that visibly displayed on Capitol Hill when the CEOs all had the same safety plan that they presented and talked about protecting the seals and the walruses in the Gulf and that had a phone number of a scientist who had died several years ago.

So if there were a leak on the scale of what BP cannot control, there would be no capability of stopping it. So I think it's appropriate to have a pause to do a safety check. MS. CROWLEY: Obama --

MS. CLIFT: And I would point out that the federal judge has extensive holdings in the oil-and-gas industry.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much?

MS. CLIFT: Enough to question whether he should have --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: -- withdrawn himself --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?

MS. CLIFT: -- because of conflict of interest.

MS. CROWLEY: The Obama team is insistent on the moratorium because, in the words of Rahm Emanuel, never let a serious crisis go to waste. And they wanted to use this as a pretext to push cap and trade.

But I read the judge's ruling on this. And what he said was that the six-month moratorium was, in fact, punitive because it was too broad, it was too arbitrary, and it wasn't adequately justified, given the impact on tens of thousands of oil-worker jobs and the impact on the local community.

So now what the Interior Department is going to do is try to redo the rule, much more nuanced, much more narrow ban, and only restrict it to certain rigs in a limited time period. That might be more appropriate --

MR. BEINART: Just help me --

MS. CROWLEY: -- than this sweeping ban.

MR. BEINART: Just help me understand this. I was under the impression that conservatives were against judicial activism, that they wanted politics to be made by the elected branches. Here you have the biggest natural disaster in American history.

MS. CROWLEY: Yes.

MR. BEINART: Obama switches policy course.

MS. CROWLEY: And did you read the ruling? The ruling was --

MR. BEINART: And a judge in New Orleans said we can't do it.

MR. LOWRY: Pass a law. Pass a law. MR. BEINART: But we can't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.

MR. LOWRY: Pass a law.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right.

MR. LOWRY: Pass a law.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. I'm getting --

MR. LOWRY: Pass a law.

MR. BEINART: I think it was all the elected branches that conservatives wanted --

MR. LOWRY: The judge said it's arbitrary and capricious, and it is.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm getting bored by this issue. (Laughter.)

Issue Three: Superpower Comrades.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) I am delighted to welcome my friend and partner, President Medvedev.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, paid an official visit to the White House this week. The two leaders met ahead of two summits in Ontario, Canada, the G-8 and the G-20 summits. Presidents Obama and Medvedev will head to Canada, not as enemies but as superpower allies.

Question -- that's right. Russia today is a superpower. Got that? Russia is a superpower. Yes or no? Peter.

MR. BEINART: No. In fact, the whole reason that we're on better terms with them is because their economy has totally tanked. And that's, in fact, why they have --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?

MR. BEINART: -- come to the table.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I thought their economy was doing better than ours.

MR. BEINART: No. I think they've been hurt worse by the financial crisis than us. And that's part of the reason they're desperate for this foreign investment. I think it's part of the reason that Obama has actually gotten somewhere on Iran and on Afghanistan.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're not -- you're denying Russia superpower status. (Laughter.)

MR. LOWRY: That's so hurtful. (Laughs.)

MR. BEINART: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you going to --

MR. BEINART: I feel confident in that.

MR. LOWRY: It's about half the population of the Soviet Union, half the industrial potential, doesn't have an ideology that has any appeal to anyone. It's a regional power, one you have to pay attention to. But there's no way to possibly argue it's a superpower.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't mean ideology. Communism is relatively dead in Russia. You know that.

MR. LOWRY: It's dead. It does not have an ideology that has international appeal.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It has --

MR. LOWRY: It has nationalism and a president for life whose name is not Medvedev. It's Vladimir Putin.

MS. CLIFT: And the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he's not going to be president. He's going to run for the seat now held by Medvedev.

MR. LOWRY: He's running everything.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And Medvedev is going to run for his seat.

MR. LOWRY: Don't be so naive, John.

MS. CLIFT: In the mind's eye of the Russians, they are a superpower. And I think it is correct on the part of President Obama to play to those aspirations, to give them that spot on the world stage. He gets along with Medvedev.

MR. LOWRY: And the hamburgers.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Well --

MS. CLIFT: And he's doing it at the expense of Putin. They're both lawyers, the same generation. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You really don't have to tell us that, because whatever Obama does, it is enlightened.

MS. CROWLEY: Look, Russia does not --

(Cross talk.)

MS. CROWLEY: Russia does not currently have the power portfolio to put it up at superpower status. But it does have nuclear weapons, and it also has -- it has the ability --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you mean? What is it missing in superpower status? Is China a superpower?

MS. CROWLEY: Well, economy, political, cultural --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is China a superpower?

MS. CROWLEY: No, but they're getting --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How many superpowers are there?

MS. CROWLEY: They're getting to superpower status only in certain categories, but --

MS. CLIFT: Major power.

MR. BEINART: I think --

MS. CROWLEY: -- the Russians do have the ability to make mischief.

MR. BEINART: The important thing is this. Russia was on its way to an alliance with the real potential superpower, which is China. And what Obama is doing, I think effectively, is by creating a closer relationship between Russia and the U.S., he's making it less likely that you're going to see a de facto partnership between Russia and China.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Interesting.

Issue Four: Haley's Comet.

NIKKI HALEY (South Carolina Republican gubernatorial candidate): (From videotape.) The truth is that we had a movement in South Carolina, and the movement was it's not about being Republican. It's about being conservative.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Nikki Haley this week took a big step toward making South Carolina political history. She defeated South Carolina Congressman Gresham Barrett and won by more than 30 points. Nikki Haley is now the Republicans' candidate for South Carolina governor. If Haley wins, less than six months from now, she will be the first female governor in South Carolina history, taking her place among other famous South Carolinian governors, notably Strom Thurmond.

Some background on Haley: Married; husband, Michael; two children, Rena and Nalin; Clemson University, B.S., accounting; chief financial officer, Exotica International, women's clothing line, '94 to '04; state representative, three two-year terms, '04 and currently; state representative, majority whip, '06 and currently.

Haley insists that if she wins, she will shake up the political establishment. That shakeup includes barring state lawmakers from voting on bills anonymously.

MS. HALEY: (From videotape.) I want term limits. I want to make sure that every legislator has to disclose their income so we know exactly who's paying them. And I want every legislator to have to vote on the record, which is not happening in South Carolina.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: How big a factor was the tea party in Nikki Haley's win? Rich Lowry.

MR. LOWRY: It was big. And it shows the charge that tea partiers are racist is a total smear. What they want is candidates who are conservative and anti-establishment, and she fit the bill in both ways. And she's part of one of the most important deep political trends this year, which is the rise of the pro-life woman.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What other primary was won by a female thanks to the tea party? Quickly, quickly.

MR. LOWRY: Sharron Angle.

MR. BEINART: Nevada.

MS. CROWLEY: Sharron Angle.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Nevada -- Sharron Angle, right?

MS. CROWLEY: Right.

MS. CLIFT: I think Sarah Palin's endorsement was actually more critical than the tea-party support. She was in the back of the pack.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, she brought the tea party in.

MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible) -- until Sarah Palin went in and endorsed her. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is she the de facto leader of the tea party, by the way?

MS. CLIFT: They like her, but they like Ron Paul even better.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean --

MS. CLIFT: But she is an Indian-American version of Sarah Palin. She's attractive.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: India -- of the nation of India, the nation of India.

MS. CLIFT: Yes. She's attractive. She's spirited. And she's very conservative. And she has something Sarah Palin doesn't have. She's in a state that really matters to the Republican primary nominating process.

MR. LOWRY: So the news --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, hold on.

MR. LOWRY: This is the nicest thing she's ever -- Eleanor has ever said about Sarah Palin.

MS. CROWLEY: I know.

MS. CLIFT: South Carolina matters to the Republican Party, to the nominating process. So everybody's going to be kissing her ring.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is this gender dominating politics with you?

MS. CLIFT: No. I welcome the -- I think the Republican Party is delighted to kind of begin to shed its image as a white male party and to bring in more women and people of color.

MR. BEINART: I agree.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, but I haven't heard you say anything nice about the Republicans. And, you know, I welcome it, even though it may be a gender --

MS. CLIFT: Well, it's hard. It's hard. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It may be a gender decision.

MS. CROWLEY: Nikki Haley, you go, girl. She is so impressive. And what you're seeing is a very diverse --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Like what? Like --

MS. CROWLEY: You're seeing a -- well, she's a fiscal conservative. She comes off as normal. In this election cycle, voters want -- they're rejecting professional politicians. They want normalcy. They want fiscal responsibility. That's what she's running on. But also, when you look at the new breed of women in the Republican Party, there is a great diversity. You've got Carly Fiorina running for the Senate in California, Meg Whitman running for governor of California. Now you've got Nikki Haley. Some are socially conservative.

MR. LOWRY: Okay --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. Wait a minute.

MS. CROWLEY: Excuse me. But Meg Whitman is a pro-choice Republican. Diversity.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Before you speak, the reason why Haley won is not her gender, not her campaign. She's an outsider. She has the look of the outsider.

MR. BEINART: Absolutely.

MS. CROWLEY: Normal.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Gresham Barrett looked like the insider.

MR. BEINART: And the political insider --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But she is an insider because she's a member of the state legislature.

MR. BEINART: Well, but in that way she is like Sarah Palin, because she was running against -- Palin also ran against a pretty corrupt Republican establishment.

MS. CROWLEY: Right.

MR. BEINART: But I think before we read too much into this --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you -- if you win as the outsider, what does it tell you?

MR. BEINART: What we've learned from this --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It tells you that incumbency is out.

MR. BEINART: What we learned from this is the news flash that in the Republican Party in South Carolina, one of the two or three most conservative states in the country, the tea party has a lot of influence. News flash.

MS. CLIFT: News flash. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Her opponent said that she was having extramarital affairs. MR. LOWRY: Within the legislature --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did you think about that rap, by the way?

MR. LOWRY: Within the legislature, she was a change agent. And these charges played as kind of good-old-boy politics as usual and kind of helped give her even more anti-establishment --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Two GOP operatives said that she had extramarital relations. It blew up in their face.

MS. CROWLEY: Right, because --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In fact, voters probably voted for her because of the phoniness of that charge.

MS. CROWLEY: Right, and because --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So she won because of the tactics of the GOP.

MS. CROWLEY: Right, because she was smeared. And also those who were making the charges had no evidence of this. And in this year, dirty politics is out. Voters want to know --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MS. CROWLEY: -- "Lower my taxes and cut spending."

MR. LOWRY: Hope and change.

MS. CLIFT: She also said if any evidence is brought forward, she would resign if elected. So that's a pretty Shermanesque statement.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Obama's approval rating is 45 percent today. Where will it be in November, five months from now? Rich.

MR. LOWRY: Mid 40s. I'd say 43, because I'm an optimist.

MS. CLIFT: Hovering just under 50 percent, which is where Pew has him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Higher than it is now.

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MS. CROWLEY: I think he'll be at 43, which is the danger zone for presidents.

MR. BEINART: Eleanor's right. He's already at basically 50. He'll stay there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He will be at 42 percent. Take it to the bank. Bye-bye.

END.