Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties and elections.

Recent Articles

Governor, You’re No Rudy Giuliani

AP Photo/Mel Evans
AP Photo/Mel Evans Y es, Chris Christie is a viable presidential candidate for 2016. Ignore anyone who compares him to Rudy Giuliani ; that’s totally the wrong comparison. Is he a frontrunner? It’s too early to tell, but Christie boosters need to explain how he gets around some pretty serious obstacles. The basic way to assess presidential candidates, this far out, is whether they meet basic tests for viability. It’s no exact science, but viable candidates must have conventional qualifications and fall within the mainstream of their party on most issues of public policy. Fail one or the other, and as candidates from Michele Bachmann (Member of the House) to Gary Johnson (out of the mainstream) to Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich (both!) have discovered, you’ll get nowhere near the Oval Office. Christie, assuming he is re-elected as governor of New Jersey, easily meets the first test, and he almost certainly meets the second one. After all, candidates don’t have to have a perfect record of...

Majority Power Play

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid T he Senate deal on executive-branch nominations is holding: Not only did the Senate confirm each of the seven nominees for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that it agreed to during a showdown over the filibuster in mid-July, last Wednesday it even confirmed a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—the first time the Senate has appointed a director to the agency in seven years. At least for the time being, we have something like simple-majority confirmation for executive-branch nominations: Confirmations still must defeat a filibuster, which requires 60 votes, but the deal appears to be that Republicans will supply at least six of them. So as long as the 54 Democrats in the chamber hold together, a filibuster can be defeated. Democrats were able to force that compromise after a series of unprecedented filibusters, including “...

Is Obamacare a Republican Job Creator?

AP Photo A lmost 50 years ago, Congress passed and Lyndon B. Johnson signed the law establishing Medicare. It was, soon, wildly popular—so much so that to this day Republican opposition to the program can only be expressed in terms of “saving” Medicare from supposed instability. In the next congressional elections, liberals took a beating—and the Democrats lost the White House in 1968. Scratch that—Democrats lost five of the next six presidential elections. That’s not the only story I could tell like that. Social Security? It passed in 1935, during what turned out to be a very good election cycle for the Democrats. Implementation began after the 1936 election, and the 1938 election began a string of conservative coalition control in Congress that lasted 20 years. Want another one? Let’s try foreign policy. The Cold War was over time a bipartisan policy, but it was the Republicans who were in office when the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union dissolved … a policy outcome universally...

Three Things You’ve Got Wrong about the Filibuster

AP Photo/Columbia, File
AP Photo/Henry Griffin W ith the Senate showdown on executive branch appointments—and eventually filibuster rules—moving towards the moment of truth, it’s a good time to revisit some of the myths surrounding one of the hallowed chamber’s most perplexing procedures. Here are three: 1. Filibusters ≠ Cloture Votes Really: Filibusters are not the same as cloture votes. All those charts and fact sheets you’ve seen showing the explosion of filibusters in 2009? Well, it happened, but the explosion was due to an increase in cloture votes, which are—get it now?—not the same as filibusters. Cloture—or cutting off debate on a bill, nomination, or motion, which by rule in the Senate requires three-fifths of all Senators—is one way the majority can end a filibuster. But it’s not the only way. Filibusters can end through attrition (that is, the minority tires of doing it); through cutting a deal on some minority demand, such as allowing one nomination to go through while another is withdrawn; or...

The ACA's Obamacare Problem

The law is going to make health care better for many Americans. A lot of them just won't realize it's the same thing as the Obamacare they hate. 

AP Images/Evan Vucci
AP Images/Evan Vucci Obamacare is well on its way to being permanently unpopular. A problem for supporters of health-care reform? Not really—because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could become just as untouchable as Medicare or Social Security. That’s right—get ready for “keep your Obamacare away from my Affordable Care Act!” Okay, not literally; they won’t actually know that the ACA exists. But that’s what they’ll be saying, in effect. From the very beginning, and certainly before Democrats also adopted “Obamacare” as the shorthand name for health-care reform, Republicans have strongly opposed a fantasy version of the landmark legislation. Whether it was “death panels,” or “government takeover,” or any number of wacky claims in chain emails, Republican opposition has rarely been focused on what’s actually in the ACA. And no matter how successful reform turns out to be, that’s unlikely to change. See, the funny thing about the Affordable Care Act is that a whole lot of it will either...