Methodologically, it doesn’t make much sense to do a poll of just the swing states. In presidential elections, the country moves as a whole; if President Barack Obama gains support nationally, then it will be reflected in individual states. Yes, some states will show more movement than others (Nate Silver calls these “elastic”), but there’s no real reason to focus exclusively on swing states, since you can predict the change with national polling. At most, it furthers the common but misguided notion that the election comprises 50 individual contests.
With a tangle of lawsuits and legal complexities, it's easy to get lost in the minutiae of Florida's voter-purge debacle. Last week, as a U.S. District Court ruled on one of the disputes between the Department of Justice and the state of Florida, most of the media discussion focused on who'd won and who'd lost in the rather nuanced court opinion. More legal action comes next week, and the discussion will likely be similar.
A significant part of the Affordable Care Act’s unpopularity had less to do with the law itself, and everything to do with its contested status. With Democrats unhappy and Republicans furious, voters saw the law as something controversial and potentially terrible. As such, the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the law was an important signal to low-information voters; it communicated a certain amount of legitimacy, which—as we saw at the beginning of this week—translated to increased support for the bill. According to a poll from CNN, for example, support for Obamacare increased to 50 percent after the Court’s ruling.
Mitt Romney is back to accusing President Obama of having no plan for economic growth:
The president’s policies have not gotten America working again. And the president is going to have to stand up and take responsibility for it. I know he’s been planning on going across the country and celebrating what he calls ‘forward.’ Well, forward doesn’t look a lot like forward to the millions and millions of families that are struggling today in this great country. It doesn’t have to be this way. The President doesn’t have a plan, hasn’t proposed any new ideas to get the economy going—just the same old ideas of the past that have failed. [Emphasis added]
(Ralph Alswang/Center for American Progress Action Fund)
In many ways, the 2012 presidential election looks a lot like the one in 2004. A divisive incumbent in a polarized electorate faces a surprisingly strong challenge from a lackluster politician against the backdrop of a stagnant economy. Like John Kerry, Mitt Romney is a Massachusetts-based candidate with a reputation for serial inconsistency, who lacks the full-throated support of his party’s base. And like George W. Bush, Barack Obama is running a campaign that highlights his strengths as a leader and portrays his opponent as untrustworthy and unprincipled. To wit, here is what Obama said in an interview with an NBC affiliate in Ohio:
Barack Obama prepares to feast on Mitt Romney's entrails. (Flickr/Barack Obama)
Campaigns often feature a division of labor when it comes to speaking about the candidate's opponent, one in which the candidate makes polite but firm criticism, while the surrogates (campaign staff, other elected officials) say much harsher and more personal things. A good campaign makes sure that the two proceed along the same thematic lines so they reinforce one another, but the fact that the candidate himself is more genteel in his language is supposed to preclude a backlash against him for being too "negative." Frankly, I've always thought this is overblown, particularly the strange custom whereby it's deemed a bit unseemly to refer to your opponent by name, such that saying "Mitt Romney is a jackass" would be horribly uncouth, but saying "My opponent is a jackass" is somehow more acceptable.
As the campaign goes on, however, this protocol is observed less and less, and the comments the candidates make take on a harder edge, beginning to resemble the comments their staffs make. It seems we may be entering a new phase, as witnessed by this:
For the third month in a row, job growth has been lackluster. In June, the number of new net jobs came in at 80,000—slightly below the 90,000 to 100,000 expected. Likewise, revisions for previous months were a wash—April’s numbers were revised from 77,000 to 68,000, and May's were revised from 69,000 to 77,000. There simply isn’t much news in this jobs report, which is another way of saying that our sluggish economic growth is grinding to a halt.
John McCain is no longer a substantively important figure in American politics. As a member of the minority party in the Senate, he chairs no committees. He is not a leader among his peers. Since losing in his second run for president, he continued his decades-long record of not bothering to engage in the legislating part of being a legislator (over a three-decade-long career, McCain has exactly one significant piece of legislation to his name, a law that was overturned by the Supreme Court). Yet he continues to be a politically important figure, appearing more often on the Sunday shows than anyone else and having his ideas and his opinions regularly reported on.
Which is why I simply must speak up now that the biggest myth about John McCain is cropping up again. It's the idea that, noble and modest as he is, McCain has always been terribly reluctant to discuss the fact that he was a POW in Vietnam.
Since not much campaign news happens over the July 4th holiday, Mitt Romney took the opportunity to change his campaign's tune on whether the Supreme Court was right that the penalty in the Affordable Care Act for those who can afford health insurance but refuse to get it is actually a "tax." To review, the Supreme Court said the government has the authority under its taxing power to penalize those who refuse to get insurance, leading Republicans to cry, "Tax! Tax! Tax!" with all of their usual policy nuance and rhetorical subtlety. The only problem this poses for Romney is that calling it a tax means that Romney imposed a tax with his health care plan in Massachusetts, which means admitting that Romney sinned against the tax gods. So first his spokesman came out and said that no, it's really just a penalty, but then Romney came out and said, well, if the Supreme Court said it's a tax then it's a tax, but it wasn't a tax when I did it, because the Supreme Court didn't call it that.
What does all this arguing over semantics tell us? It tells us that the press and public are both complicit in creating the hurricane of stupidity that every presidential campaign devolves into.
I just want to elaborate on a point I made in passing in my column today about Mitt Romney's complex ideological dance. When it became clear that Romney would indeed be the Republican nominee, people began speculating about how he would execute the "move to the center" that every nominee must undertake, since in the primaries you're appealing to your party's base, while in the general election you have to appeal to independents. It's particularly tricky for Romney, since every time he switches positions on something people are reminded that he switches positions on things a lot, and that gives Democrats the opportunity to remind everyone of his flip-flopping past.
So has Mitt managed to find a way out of this dilemma? I think he has.
For years, conservatives have articulated a clear legal philosophy to guide their beliefs about the proper role of the courts and the way judges should arrive at their decisions, much clearer than the philosophy liberals espouse. They said they supported "originalism," whereby judges would simply examine the Constitution as the Founders understood it to guide its interpretation today. They said they opposed "judicial activism," wanting judges to simply interpret the law instead of making their own laws. Liberals always replied that these ideas were a disingenuous cover for something much simpler: conservatives just want judicial decisions that support their policy preferences. They see whatever they want in the Constitution, and define "judicial activism" as nothing more than decisions whose outcomes they don't like.
The reaction to Chief Justice John Roberts joining the Supreme Court's four liberals to uphold the Affordable Care Act shows something revealing about the conservative perspective on the Court and the law. Despite all the time they've spent asserting that the decisions they like are based only on principle, they seem incapable of even considering that a decision they didn't like could possibly be based in anything other than politics. Could John Roberts have sided with the liberals because in this case, he decided that they were right? Oh, come on, they reply, who are you kidding?
Now that Supreme Court season is over, it's time for political observers to return to obsessing over the next big decision: Mitt Romney's vice-presidential pick. With news slowing down in advance of the mid-week holiday, there's opportunity for the speculation flames to fan higher than usual in the upcoming days. Today, Politico's Jonathan Martin called the veepstakes the "political equivalent of the Oscars" and NPR chimed in with "coquettish dance." These descriptions seem far too flattering for the paperwork and equivocating that characterizes the selection of a running mate.
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell is ordinarily a spinner of unusual skill. He's relentlessly focused on his message and doesn't let any interviewer frame a question in a way he (McConnell) doesn't like. Which is why it was a little odd to see Fox News' Chris Wallace catch him without a handy talking point when it came to covering the uninsured. This excerpt is a little long, but you have to see the whole thing: