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Cantor's Defeat Was Local, But Reverberations Are National


Sergeant Bergdahl is back on U.S. soil, and the controversy over President Obama's decision to trade with the Taliban for his release continues as events in Iraq bring a new challenge. Here to talk about the week in politics is NPR's Ron Elving. He joins us now from member station KPLU in Seattle in what they like to call the real Washington - Washington State. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Does the rise in Iraq of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, after the drawing away from the red line in Syria and then Ukraine and embarrassment over the NSA listing to Angela Merkel's phone calls, raise new questions about President Obama's medal on foreign policy?

ELVING: This is more than just another foreign policy mess. This is a complete disaster for the State of Iraq in so far as there is a State of Iraq at this point. If the rise of ISIS continues, that country as we have known it even since the U.S. invasion is apparently going to break apart. This may be seen by many as the inevitable consequence of pulling out in 2011, which the Obama administration continues to regard as an achievement. It will be seen, therefore, as a case of I told you so by those who said we should never pull our troops out. On the other hand, it will also be seen as a confirmation for those who thought our troops should never have been there in the first place. And it's going to be seen as a re-dividing of an old division in American political life over what should have been done in Iraq more than a decade ago.

SIMON: Big, domestic political story of the week, of course - the enormous reaction to the defeat in the Republican primary of the House Majority Leader Representative Eric Cantor by an economics professor named David Brat. Is all politics local or are there national implications here?

ELVING: There is the reality, which is largely local. And then there's a reverberation, which is certainly national. If you want to talk about this being a capital T, capital P - Tea Party victory, I would say no. The big groups that use that name in their title and raise money with it generally were not that big a factor in this race. If you want to talk about tea party as a metaphor for the kind of conservative, populist energy that we're seeing sporadically but strongly in certain parts of the country this year, then it most certainly was that. And it will be used as an inspiration for other candidates coming after establishment Republicans from the right all of the country and for some time to come.

SIMON: The House Majority Whip, Kevin McCarthy, this week emerged as the - certainly the favorite candidate to succeed Representative Cantor. It happened pretty quickly. What should we know about Representative McCarthy?

ELVING: Mr. McCarthy comes from California. He is blonde, but this is not a beach boy. We're not talking about a surfing district. He comes from Bakersfield. That is the land of oil and gas and cattle ranching. And it looks and tastes a lot more like Oklahoma, votes more like Oklahoma than much California.

Kevin McCarthy was an aide to Bill Thomas, who is the longtime congressman from there in Bakersfield. He came into power largely as a backroom guy who did all the organizing for the congressman. But when he himself ran for office and joined the California state legislator, he was elected the Republican leader in the state assembly the first year he was there. That tells you something about him. And he has risen to this point where all the chairs of all the other major committees have already said, it should be Kevin McCarthy who takes over for Eric Cantor. And that's important because whoever takes over for Eric Cantor might very well be taking over as speaker of the House when John Boehner retires, which could be very soon.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving. Thanks so much.

ELVING: Good to be with you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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