Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2012 election

Are Democratic Voters Surging?

The blizzard of polls that emerged yesterday afternoon had morphed into an Obama avalanche by the time dinnertime rolled around. Surveys at the national and state level disagreed with the results of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, which show a tied race around 47 percent. Every other survey, with the exception of one in New Hampshire, showed Barack Obama ahead, and in most cases ahead outside the margin of error. That includes polls of the swing states Mitt Romney has to win if he is to prevail in November.

I said yesterday afternoon that the polls suggested Obama was ahead, but by a little, not a lot. How does that conclusion stand after the data onslaught?

Look, when every poll but two points in the same direction, it would be madness to say signs point to the opposite. Clearly, Obama is leading, and maybe by more than a little. More damaging for Romney’s prospects is the fact that the lead is either stable or strengthening in those battleground states.

Or is it?

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The blizzard of polls that emerged yesterday afternoon had morphed into an Obama avalanche by the time dinnertime rolled around. Surveys at the national and state level disagreed with the results of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, which show a tied race around 47 percent. Every other survey, with the exception of one in New Hampshire, showed Barack Obama ahead, and in most cases ahead outside the margin of error. That includes polls of the swing states Mitt Romney has to win if he is to prevail in November.

I said yesterday afternoon that the polls suggested Obama was ahead, but by a little, not a lot. How does that conclusion stand after the data onslaught?

Look, when every poll but two points in the same direction, it would be madness to say signs point to the opposite. Clearly, Obama is leading, and maybe by more than a little. More damaging for Romney’s prospects is the fact that the lead is either stable or strengthening in those battleground states.

Or is it?

The only reason to think it isn’t strengthening goes to one common feature these Obama-friendly polls share—a surge in the number of Democrats ready or likely to vote over the past month. Take Wisconsin, where two polls gave Obama great comfort. The Quinnipiac survey showed Obama gaining 4 percentage points over its survey last month. But that gain was the direct result of the fact that the number of Democrats polled was also up by 4 percentage points.

Even more telling was the Marquette University poll in Wisconsin, which showed Obama up a staggering 11 points since its last take—as a result of including 10 percent more Democrats in the survey.

Quinnipiac’s survey of Virginia featured a Democratic advantage of 11 points—a vast increase in the number of Democrats surveyed in previous tallies.

Some political observers would ask: What’s the issue? Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in every presidential year but one (2004) from time immemorial. That advantage has typically been around 4 percent. But exit polls in 2008 showed a Democratic advantage of a staggering 8 points. So why aren’t these 2012 poll results simply to be accepted?

Simple. We have solid, data-driven reasons to think 2008 was an unprecedented moment that will not be replicated this year. Put Bush fatigue, the Wall Street meltdown, the Obama novelty phenomenon, and a terrible GOP candidate in a blender and you get the 2008 Obama froth.

What would cause such a surge this year? Two thirds of the country says we’re on the wrong track.

That’s a wipeout-for-Obama number, not a number suggesting that Obama will match or better his result in 2008.

And bettering his result is what many of these surveys anticipate. In ’08, Democratic voters outnumbered Republicans by 6 percent—not 11, as the Marquette poll would have it in its present survey. Or 9, as Pew would have it.

But why would his result even remain close to the same? Just two years ago, there was a GOP surge leading to a 63 seat gain in the House of Representatives. Nationwide, the vote percentages from 2008 flipped. In ’08. Obama won 53-46; the GOP nationally won 53 percent of the vote in ’10. The 8-point Democratic advantage of ’08 declined into an even split—from 39D-32R to 35-35.

How could Obama get back to 2008 levels only two years later when conditions are not much improved, if at all, for him or the country?

The obvious riposte is that the presidential-year electorate is much larger and more varied than a midterm electorate. In 2010, 90 million people voted. In 2012, we can expect somewhere between 130-140 million. That’s a big difference, but it’s not a colossal difference.

Let’s assume every one of those 90 million people votes this year—a proper assumption, as midterm voters are extremely engaged politically. That would constitute something like 60 percent of the 2012 electorate. Imagine that they all were to vote the same partisan way in 2012. This would be like saying it’s election night and Bret Baier is already intoning, “With 60 percent of the vote counted, Mitt Romney leads Barack Obama by seven points.”

If that were to happen, it would be time to call the election for Romney. Almost certainly, it won’t. All the evidence suggests a measurable number of people who voted GOP in 2010 will vote for Obama in 2012. None of them, pretty much, will be Republicans, more than nine of ten of whom will vote for Romney. Nine of ten Democrats will vote for Obama.

So everyone who switches will be an independent. Independent voters swung harder and faster in 2010 than at any time in the nation’s history—from supporting Obama by 18 percent to supporting Republican candidates by 8 percent, a shift of an astonishing 25 percent. Obviously, people that fickle will bounce around some. But are they really going to swing back in numbers sufficient to hand Obama the kind of victory the polls are presaging? For what reason?

And talk about independents in this way doesn’t explain why it would be that Democrats would suddenly awaken from a three-year slumber and begin to feel like it was 2008 all over again. It could be happening. But shouldn’t something other than a good speech by Bill Clinton be responsible for such a thing? Romney’s inability to score any higher than 47 percent in any poll is certainly a sign he’s not making the sale—but whatever his weaknesses, it seems unlikely he’s the cause of a mad rush to ensure he doesn’t get the White House.

These are the reasons to be reasonably skeptical—not dismissive, not conspiratorial about motive, but reasonably skeptical—about the margins by which these polls are bolstering and boosting Obama. They appear to anticipate an electorate on November 6 that is more Democratic and Obama-friendly than is likely to be the case.

The Romney people should not be skeptical, though. They ought to believe it. They ought to think they’re behind, because they are; and they ought to think they’re farther behind than they are, because that is the only way they will experience the urgency they need to show to change the trajectory of this race.

Perhaps they, like their excessively calm candidate, haven’t quite reckoned with the degree of public humiliation and outright scorn that will be hurled in their faces and the damage that will be done to their professional reputations if Romney loses a race he should have won.

They, like Romney, have every reason to fear such a result and to act dramatically to prevent it. And they have an obligation to the 60-million-plus people who will vote for them, and who believe the country’s future is at stake, not to let this all dribble away.

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The State of the Race

A flurry of surveys with wildly contradictory results at the national and state levels has caused the New York Times‘s polling guru, Nate Silver, to throw up his hands. This afternoon, he tweeted: “The. Polls. Have. Stopped. Making. Any. Sense.” This may understate the case. For ten years now, pollsters have acknowledged their jobs are becoming more and more difficult, what with the multiplicity of phones people use, the time they spend on the Internet, and the fact that more and more people screen their calls. The poll madness today suggests that the difficulty may be blossoming into a full-bore crisis—even as the media hang on every number because we need something, anything, that seems like an empirical data point to evaluate the state of the race.

So trying to figure out where the presidential race might be at present is total guesswork, based on data that don’t correlate and are being gathered according to suspect means. So here’s mine: Obama is ahead and Romney is behind. But not by much, and within the margin of error.

Given the steadiness in the findings of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, both of which essentially echo each other with a 47-46 result over the past several days, their agreement would seem to be closer to the truth than longer-term polls showing a far wider margin in Obama’s favor. But the existence of those polls, and the lack of existence of a single poll showing a wider margin for Romney, is suggestive of something.

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A flurry of surveys with wildly contradictory results at the national and state levels has caused the New York Times‘s polling guru, Nate Silver, to throw up his hands. This afternoon, he tweeted: “The. Polls. Have. Stopped. Making. Any. Sense.” This may understate the case. For ten years now, pollsters have acknowledged their jobs are becoming more and more difficult, what with the multiplicity of phones people use, the time they spend on the Internet, and the fact that more and more people screen their calls. The poll madness today suggests that the difficulty may be blossoming into a full-bore crisis—even as the media hang on every number because we need something, anything, that seems like an empirical data point to evaluate the state of the race.

So trying to figure out where the presidential race might be at present is total guesswork, based on data that don’t correlate and are being gathered according to suspect means. So here’s mine: Obama is ahead and Romney is behind. But not by much, and within the margin of error.

Given the steadiness in the findings of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, both of which essentially echo each other with a 47-46 result over the past several days, their agreement would seem to be closer to the truth than longer-term polls showing a far wider margin in Obama’s favor. But the existence of those polls, and the lack of existence of a single poll showing a wider margin for Romney, is suggestive of something.

Without a change in the race’s trajectory, there’s little reason to think there will be any change in the dynamic. In other words, Obama would win. By a little, not a lot. And there is no margin of error on election day (unless the chads fail to fall).

Which means Romney needs to act to change the trajectory. One sign of what that might mean comes from the first major poll on foreign policy taken after last week’s horrific events in Cairo and Libya. You’ll recall Romney blasted the administration for a statement out of Cairo that, he said, expressed sympathy for the rioters. This was viewed as a great evil by a great many people, and criticized by people on Romney’s own side as well. Romney’s team appeared battered and bruised by the attacks. And yet in the NBC News poll released yesterday, the president saw a significant drop of 5 percentage points on a question about his handling of foreign policy. This is not to say Romney caused Obama’s drop, but it might mean he was closer to the national wavelength than the incestuous Washington-NY media thought.

Obviously the question over the next few days is whether Romney will suffer from the “47 percent” remarks on the hidden videotape. I explain here why I think what Romney said was wrong and wrong-headed. That kind of trajectory change would, obviously, make Romney’s challenge more significant.

The strange thing about the Romney camp is that, with the exception of that statement, it appears to have no sense of urgency about its condition. Romney, it’s said, never gets mad, and has never had a fight with his wife. That’s wonderful for him, but one virtue of getting angry and heated and squabbly and in a fight is that it will at least register a pulse. You can’t win a race if you don’t get your heart rate up.

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Not Meeting Bibi: What Obama Is Secretly Thinking

With apologies to the late William Safire, who came up with this imaginative format:

“So Netanyahu wants to meet me when he comes to the States for the U.N. General Assembly. Of course he does. Last time he was here and we met, that arrogant SOB showed me up during our joint press availability and delivered me and America a lecture on Palestinian intransigence. Then he goes and gets dozens of standing ovations speaking before a Joint Session of Congress. He makes me look bad, I find myself with fundraising problems, and the chance that in an incredibly close election even the loss of 10,000 Jewish votes in Florida could make all the difference. And who is to blame for my difficulties? Netanyahu. He has stoked this. He has nurtured this. He has made this flower.

“Now here we are, and he wants to corner me again. He wants to talk about Iran. He knows we’re just a few weeks from the election, when it would be best for me to look really tough. But that’s not my strategy here. I want to do what I can to squeeze Iran, but I want to make sure the Iranians have wiggle room to get themselves out of the nuclear trap they’ve walked into without looking as though they’ve surrendered. What does he want? He wants me to establish ‘red lines’ for Iranian conduct that will set up a tripwire. If they cross those lines, war begins.

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With apologies to the late William Safire, who came up with this imaginative format:

“So Netanyahu wants to meet me when he comes to the States for the U.N. General Assembly. Of course he does. Last time he was here and we met, that arrogant SOB showed me up during our joint press availability and delivered me and America a lecture on Palestinian intransigence. Then he goes and gets dozens of standing ovations speaking before a Joint Session of Congress. He makes me look bad, I find myself with fundraising problems, and the chance that in an incredibly close election even the loss of 10,000 Jewish votes in Florida could make all the difference. And who is to blame for my difficulties? Netanyahu. He has stoked this. He has nurtured this. He has made this flower.

“Now here we are, and he wants to corner me again. He wants to talk about Iran. He knows we’re just a few weeks from the election, when it would be best for me to look really tough. But that’s not my strategy here. I want to do what I can to squeeze Iran, but I want to make sure the Iranians have wiggle room to get themselves out of the nuclear trap they’ve walked into without looking as though they’ve surrendered. What does he want? He wants me to establish ‘red lines’ for Iranian conduct that will set up a tripwire. If they cross those lines, war begins.

“Meaning a U.S. war. Bibi figures it would be best if the U.S. did Israel’s work for it, because we have all the weaponry and the long-range capability. He wants to scare me and everybody else by saying, ‘We don’t know if we Israelis can do this, can take the Iranian nuclear program out. But we’ll have to try if you don’t. We may fail. We may do badly and there may be horrible repercussions and loss of life and chaos in the Middle East and oil at $200. But I’m just crazy enough to do it.’

“I don’t think he’s crazy. I think he’s hateful. I think he wants to destroy my presidency and he doesn’t care how he does it. I think this close to the election he wants to force me into a corner I don’t want to be forced into, and get a soapbox to stand on to preach his word while I stand there mutely and say nothing.

“No way. I’m not meeting with him. Let them scream. Let Romney try to play this for votes and money. What’s done is done. I’ve raised the money I can raise and the Jewish vote will go the way the Jewish vote will go. People who really agree with him are not going to vote for me already. I figure no matter what, I can get 60 percent of the Jewish vote and that will have to do.

“Remember what I said to Medvedev? That after the election I’ll have more flexibility? Oh, am I going to flex some of that Bibi’s way. You can count on that.”

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Obama, Romney, and the Ludicrousness of Political Determinism

Eight weeks from today, 140 million people will go to the polls to elect a president. According to the most confidently expressed theories about this election, the result is already determined. It is the operative theory at Romney headquarters that their man is going to win because the economy is so sour, two-thirds of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, and the small number of undecided voters will break for Romney three-to-one and he’ll edge across the finish line in first place.

The Obamans appear to believe that their man is going to win because he was ahead in the polls after the conventions and the candidate ahead after the conventions usually wins (except in 2008, when John McCain was ahead, but whatever). He has a four point lead today in the Real Clear Politics average and, as former George W. Bush pollster (and later political turncoat) Matthew Dowd said today, “A 4 or 5 point lead in this environment is as significant as a 10-12 point lead 15, 20 years ago.” Polls suggest voters like Obama more than Romney; there’s even a data point on one today about whom you would like by your bedside when you are sick, a question the very existence of which indicates we are halfway on the road to Idiocracy. One eager-beaver website has even already declared Romney the loser of the debates.

So here’s my question: Why campaign at all? If it’s all baked in the cake, why will the candidates travel relentlessly, spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and wake up in cold sweats five nights out of six?

Because, of course, it’s not.

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Eight weeks from today, 140 million people will go to the polls to elect a president. According to the most confidently expressed theories about this election, the result is already determined. It is the operative theory at Romney headquarters that their man is going to win because the economy is so sour, two-thirds of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, and the small number of undecided voters will break for Romney three-to-one and he’ll edge across the finish line in first place.

The Obamans appear to believe that their man is going to win because he was ahead in the polls after the conventions and the candidate ahead after the conventions usually wins (except in 2008, when John McCain was ahead, but whatever). He has a four point lead today in the Real Clear Politics average and, as former George W. Bush pollster (and later political turncoat) Matthew Dowd said today, “A 4 or 5 point lead in this environment is as significant as a 10-12 point lead 15, 20 years ago.” Polls suggest voters like Obama more than Romney; there’s even a data point on one today about whom you would like by your bedside when you are sick, a question the very existence of which indicates we are halfway on the road to Idiocracy. One eager-beaver website has even already declared Romney the loser of the debates.

So here’s my question: Why campaign at all? If it’s all baked in the cake, why will the candidates travel relentlessly, spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and wake up in cold sweats five nights out of six?

Because, of course, it’s not.

The problem with all these theories is this kind of determinism serves as crazed comfort to those working on these campaigns when things may be going wrong with their strategy. I suspect that is true of the Romney campaign, which is relying to a strange extent on the presumption that its leader can win without giving people much of a reason to vote for him. I expand on this point in today’s New York Post. Suffice it to say that if the panjandrums in Boston are relying on the voters to make up their own reasons to vote for Romney, they might be on the way to making the biggest political blunder in our lifetimes.

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Symbolic Repeal Puts Dems on the Record

Five Democrats broke with their party to support the bill to repeal ObamaCare, which is just two more than in 2011. House Republicans supported it unanimously, Fox News reports:

House lawmakers voted Wednesday to repeal the federal health care overhaul — the latest in a long line of anti-”ObamaCare” votes, but the first since the Supreme Court upheld the law and defined one of its key provisions as a “tax.”

The House has voted more than 30 times to scrap, defund or undercut the law since Obama signed it in March 2010. As with those bills, the repeal bill approved Wednesday on a 244-185 vote faces certain demise in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

But Republicans were looking to get lawmakers back on record on the law in the wake of the high court ruling last month. The ruling upheld most the law as constitutional, but in doing so determined that the controversial penalty on those who do not buy insurance technically qualifies as a “tax” and not a “penalty” as the administration had claimed. That definition fueled GOP criticism of the law, and put some Democrats in a politically tricky position.

The bill won’t actually go anywhere — Harry Reid would block a Senate vote on it, not that it would have a chance of passing there anyway. As a completely gratuitous precaution President Obama has also vowed to veto the bill if it miraculously ends up on his desk.

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Five Democrats broke with their party to support the bill to repeal ObamaCare, which is just two more than in 2011. House Republicans supported it unanimously, Fox News reports:

House lawmakers voted Wednesday to repeal the federal health care overhaul — the latest in a long line of anti-”ObamaCare” votes, but the first since the Supreme Court upheld the law and defined one of its key provisions as a “tax.”

The House has voted more than 30 times to scrap, defund or undercut the law since Obama signed it in March 2010. As with those bills, the repeal bill approved Wednesday on a 244-185 vote faces certain demise in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

But Republicans were looking to get lawmakers back on record on the law in the wake of the high court ruling last month. The ruling upheld most the law as constitutional, but in doing so determined that the controversial penalty on those who do not buy insurance technically qualifies as a “tax” and not a “penalty” as the administration had claimed. That definition fueled GOP criticism of the law, and put some Democrats in a politically tricky position.

The bill won’t actually go anywhere — Harry Reid would block a Senate vote on it, not that it would have a chance of passing there anyway. As a completely gratuitous precaution President Obama has also vowed to veto the bill if it miraculously ends up on his desk.

But 185 Democrats are now on the record supporting Obamacare, even after the SCOTUS decision and the classification of the mandate as a “tax.” This will be powerful ammunition for Republican congressional candidates leading up to Election Day. Considering the consistent majority public opposition to Obamacare, It’s surprising that just two Democrats switched sides since the 2011 vote. Maybe even vulnerable Dems figured they already did the damage by supporting Obamacare in the first place — what’s one more vote in favor?

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Why Obama’s Slipping Nationally

Despite the Democratic Party’s determined efforts to paint Republicans as out-of-touch with the mainstream (particularly on contraception issues, women’s rights and foreign policy), President Obama’s numbers are sliding in general election matchups with the GOP candidates, according to the latest Rasmussen and Washington Post-ABC News polls.

Rasmussen found that Obama is now trailing Mitt Romney by five points, while WaPo/ABC found him tied with both Romney and Santorum.

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Despite the Democratic Party’s determined efforts to paint Republicans as out-of-touch with the mainstream (particularly on contraception issues, women’s rights and foreign policy), President Obama’s numbers are sliding in general election matchups with the GOP candidates, according to the latest Rasmussen and Washington Post-ABC News polls.

Rasmussen found that Obama is now trailing Mitt Romney by five points, while WaPo/ABC found him tied with both Romney and Santorum.

 

Both polls cite different reasons for Obama’s weakened standing. Rasmussen finds that Romney’s support has increased among Republicans, and he’s attracting in more defectors from the opposing party than Obama is:

Romney’s support among Republican voters has moved up to 83 percent, just about matching the president’s 84 percent support among Democrats. However, only six percent of GOP voters would vote for Obama if Romney is the nominee. Twice as many Democrats (12 percent) would cross party lines to vote for Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts also has an eight-point advantage among unaffiliated voters.

The numbers show that Obama needs to focus more on getting his own party in line, before he can start reaching out to independent voters and Republicans. But so far, the attempts to paint Romney and the GOP as extreme on social issues, unsympathetic to the middle class, and recklessly aggressive on foreign policy haven’t seemed to have much impact.

Another problem for the Obama campaign is that, despite the positive economic news over the past couple of months, the president still gets low ratings on economic performance. This seems to be because rising gas prices is replacing unemployment as a major personal financial concern. According to the WaPo poll:

Gas prices are a main culprit: Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they disapprove of the way the president is handling the situation at the pump, where rising prices have already hit hard. Just 26 percent approve of his work on the issue, his lowest rating in the poll. Most Americans say higher prices are already taking a toll on family finances, and nearly half say they think that prices will continue to rise, and stay high.

Obama had been trying to play both sides of the fence on Keystone XL construction until last week, when he actively lobbied against a Senate bill that would move the pipeline project forward. Unless he flips on this issue, it’s going to dog his campaign as long as gas prices keep rising. Nobody expects gas prices to drop immediately if the Keystone XL gets the green light, but the public wants to hear some long-term plan for dealing with rising gas prices – temporary credits aren’t going to cut it.

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J Street Spin Can’t Obscure Obama’s Jewish Vote Troubles

The left-wing J Street lobby has failed to gain much traction on Capitol Hill in its four years of existence. So it was hardly surprising that it would attempt to gain some publicity on the eve of the annual conference of AIPAC, the organization it once hoped to supplant. The group released a memo by its pollster Jim Gerstein that, it claims, debunks the notion that President Obama is in any danger of losing his stranglehold on the Jewish vote this fall.

Gerstein’s numbers and analysis are, however, merely a rehashing of much of what we already knew about the Jewish vote. It also largely mischaracterizes the debate about the issue. No one is disputing that Obama or any Democrat with a pulse will get a majority of Jewish votes in 2012. But neither is there much doubt that there is much chance that he will not get the same 78 percent of Jewish support that he got in 2008. The question is, after three years of distancing himself from Israel and engaging in disputes with the Jewish state, how big will be the drop off this year? The jury is obviously still out on that, but Gerstein’s assumption that it will not be much seems unfounded. Equally unreliable, as well as telling, is his argument that few Jews vote on the basis of U.S. policy toward Israel. Given the all-out charm offensive that the Obama administration has been directing toward Jewish voters in the last few months — which will reach another crescendo today as President Obama addresses the AIPAC Conference — it would seem the White House has a different view of the question than its J Street idolaters.

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The left-wing J Street lobby has failed to gain much traction on Capitol Hill in its four years of existence. So it was hardly surprising that it would attempt to gain some publicity on the eve of the annual conference of AIPAC, the organization it once hoped to supplant. The group released a memo by its pollster Jim Gerstein that, it claims, debunks the notion that President Obama is in any danger of losing his stranglehold on the Jewish vote this fall.

Gerstein’s numbers and analysis are, however, merely a rehashing of much of what we already knew about the Jewish vote. It also largely mischaracterizes the debate about the issue. No one is disputing that Obama or any Democrat with a pulse will get a majority of Jewish votes in 2012. But neither is there much doubt that there is much chance that he will not get the same 78 percent of Jewish support that he got in 2008. The question is, after three years of distancing himself from Israel and engaging in disputes with the Jewish state, how big will be the drop off this year? The jury is obviously still out on that, but Gerstein’s assumption that it will not be much seems unfounded. Equally unreliable, as well as telling, is his argument that few Jews vote on the basis of U.S. policy toward Israel. Given the all-out charm offensive that the Obama administration has been directing toward Jewish voters in the last few months — which will reach another crescendo today as President Obama addresses the AIPAC Conference — it would seem the White House has a different view of the question than its J Street idolaters.

One of the main fallacies in Gerstein’s memo seems to be his assertion that the Republicans are unlikely to do better in 2012 with Jewish voters than they did in their 2010 midterm landslide. Gerstein rightly says that the Democrats held most of the Jewish vote in 2010 even as they were getting slaughtered nationally. But the 2010 ballot was largely a referendum on Obama’s domestic policies like ObamaCare that were far more popular among Jews than among the general population. The presidential vote this year will provide pro-Israel Jewish moderates and Democrats an opportunity to register their dismay at Obama’s attitude toward Israel prior to his re-election campaign. Though he attempts to ignore data that contradicts his predictions, such as the Pew Research Study that showed a dramatic decline in Jewish affiliation toward the Democrats in the last four years, the administration’s obvious concern about the Jewish vote this year belies Gerstein’s false optimism on this score.

Gerstein is right when he says that Democrats retain the almost blind loyalty of a majority of American Jews. As I write in my feature in the March issue of COMMENTARY, “Jews, Money and 2012,” there is virtually nothing Obama could do or say in the next eight months that would cause him to get less than 50-60 percent of the Jewish vote. But the difference between that base line and the 78 percent he got in 2008 is very much up for grabs. Though those numbers may not be enormous, contrary to Gerstein’s argument, they are enough to make a difference in a number of crucial states such as Florida and Pennsylvania.

President Obama’s fortunes are on the upswing due to slightly better economic numbers and the fallout from a bitter Republican primary battle. But it’s a long way to November, and the standoff with Iran and the president’s willingness to back up his talk on the nuclear question with action, will have a major impact on the Jewish vote this year. The potential for a significant drop off from Obama’s 78 percent — especially if the GOP nominates a candidate not identified with the Christian right — is something that more realistic Democratic sources than J Street and Gerstein are right to take very seriously.

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Netanyahu Visit Will Highlight Obama’s Jewish Charm Offensive

During the first three years of the Obama administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visits to the White House have been the occasion for some memorable fights with the president. He has been ambushed, insulted, lectured and, on at least one occasion, gave back as good as he got as he pushed back against Obama’s attempt to undercut Israel’s negotiating position with the Palestinians and its rights in Jerusalem. But Netanyahu’s next visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will probably be a very different one entirely. With the president fighting hard to retain the votes and the financial support of American Jews and other friends of Israel, Netanyahu can expect that Obama will be on his very best behavior when he arrives next month for a visit that was announced yesterday.

With the threat of a nuclear Iran hanging over both nations and with the United States eager to dissuade Israel from striking first on its own, the two men have some serious business to conduct. But it is impossible to ignore the political implications of this summit. With evidence mounting that Obama and the Democrats have been bleeding Jewish support in the last year, the visit will take the president’s charm offensive aimed at convincing the Jewish community he is Israel’s best friend to a new level. Netanyahu has good reason to play along with Obama’s pretense, as he may have to go on dealing with him until January 2017. But the question remains whether the two men can sufficiently paper over their personal hostility and policy differences in order for the visit to have the effect the president’s political handlers are aiming for.

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During the first three years of the Obama administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visits to the White House have been the occasion for some memorable fights with the president. He has been ambushed, insulted, lectured and, on at least one occasion, gave back as good as he got as he pushed back against Obama’s attempt to undercut Israel’s negotiating position with the Palestinians and its rights in Jerusalem. But Netanyahu’s next visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will probably be a very different one entirely. With the president fighting hard to retain the votes and the financial support of American Jews and other friends of Israel, Netanyahu can expect that Obama will be on his very best behavior when he arrives next month for a visit that was announced yesterday.

With the threat of a nuclear Iran hanging over both nations and with the United States eager to dissuade Israel from striking first on its own, the two men have some serious business to conduct. But it is impossible to ignore the political implications of this summit. With evidence mounting that Obama and the Democrats have been bleeding Jewish support in the last year, the visit will take the president’s charm offensive aimed at convincing the Jewish community he is Israel’s best friend to a new level. Netanyahu has good reason to play along with Obama’s pretense, as he may have to go on dealing with him until January 2017. But the question remains whether the two men can sufficiently paper over their personal hostility and policy differences in order for the visit to have the effect the president’s political handlers are aiming for.

Netanyahu will be in Washington to speak to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in early March (Obama is also scheduled to speak at the conference), which makes the invitation to the White House a perfect opportunity for the administration to continue its attempt to erase the bad feelings three years of non-stop spats have created. Having arrived at the White House in January 2009 determined to scrap what he saw as the Bush administration’s preference for Israel over the Palestinians, Obama set out to create more distance between the two countries. That process was exacerbated by Netanyahu’s election as prime minister a month later. Obama, who even during the 2008 presidential campaign had made it clear he was no fan of the Likud, picked unnecessary fights with Netanyahu about settlement freezes and Jerusalem. Initially, the administration seemed to want to force Netanyahu from office, but when their strong-arm tactics strengthened rather than weakened him, Obama was forced to resort to a diplomatic war of attrition against the Israeli.

In 2010, following the president’s decision to treat a housing start in an existing Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem during a visit to the city by Vice President Biden as a crisis, Netanyahu was scolded by Secretary of State Clinton and then personally insulted by the president during a subsequent trip to Washington. A year later the tension boiled over again when Obama ambushed Netanyahu on the eve of another visit by announcing his intention to make the 1967 lines be the starting point for future peace negotiations. But the ploy backfired on Obama when even most members of his own party backed Netanyahu’s opposition to the stand. He was forced to endure a public lecture by the prime minister on the topic of Israel’s security and then look on as Netanyahu was cheered like a conquering hero by a joint meeting of Congress.

Since then, Obama has been more circumspect about his criticisms of Israel as he turned to the difficult task of walking back his antagonism in order to be re-elected. Of late, he has touted himself as having done more for Israel’s security than any president. Though this is, at best, an exaggeration, Obama has not obstructed the long-standing security alliance.

Fortunately for the president, the Palestinians never took advantage of the pressure he exerted on the Israelis, and the peace process will probably be on the back burner next month. But that doesn’t mean there will be no tension during the conclave. Though the administration has escalated its rhetoric against Iran and has, albeit unwillingly, started to take steps toward enforcing tough sanctions against Tehran, it has seemed more alarmed by the prospect of Israel striking Iran’s facilities than of the ayatollahs getting their hands on a nuclear weapon.

The question on the table in March will center on whether the United States can give Israel a reasonable alternative to the use of force. Given the existential threat a nuclear Iran poses to Israel — as well as to the rest of the region and the West — Netanyahu is rightly worried that any further delay will work to Iran’s interests and against that of his own country. Netanyahu will go to Washington probably hoping for a promise that the U.S. will not wait indefinitely for sanctions to work before agreeing to condone or join an Israeli strike. Obama wants Israel to agree not to strike this year and to present a united front that will strengthen both his diplomatic and political posture.

Though Netanyahu can expect a far friendlier reception than during his previous visits, the problem is not only that his goals are antithetical to those of the president but that Obama’s hostility to the Israeli (which he foolishly aired over an open microphone during a chat with French President Sarkozy) is such that it is far from clear whether he can contain his animus long enough to get the friendly photo-op he needs to bolster his re-election campaign.

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Santorum Isn’t Wrong on Gambling

Those who have pointed out that Rick Santorum’s reputation as the scourge of gays and his opposition to contraception will be serious liabilities in a general election are right. But his stance on gambling that Alana noted yesterday ought not to be lumped in as yet another instance of the former Pennsylvania senator acting out his role as the national scold. Santorum’s opposition to the spread of gambling, and specifically the legalization of Internet gambling,is neither overly moralistic nor hypocritical. What’s more, I highly doubt Democrats would seek to make this a campaign issue because it would cast them not so much as libertarian defenders of the right to gamble as the defenders of a dangerous social pathology.

As Alana wrote, Santorum recently reiterated his long-held belief that allowing legalized gambling to spread from its previous enclaves in Las Vegas and Atlantic City is a terrible idea for the country. But, contrary to Alana’s assertion, this doesn’t make him an advocate of a nanny state. The analogy here is not so much to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on trans fats as it is the decision about whether this country will legalize marijuana or even heroin.

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Those who have pointed out that Rick Santorum’s reputation as the scourge of gays and his opposition to contraception will be serious liabilities in a general election are right. But his stance on gambling that Alana noted yesterday ought not to be lumped in as yet another instance of the former Pennsylvania senator acting out his role as the national scold. Santorum’s opposition to the spread of gambling, and specifically the legalization of Internet gambling,is neither overly moralistic nor hypocritical. What’s more, I highly doubt Democrats would seek to make this a campaign issue because it would cast them not so much as libertarian defenders of the right to gamble as the defenders of a dangerous social pathology.

As Alana wrote, Santorum recently reiterated his long-held belief that allowing legalized gambling to spread from its previous enclaves in Las Vegas and Atlantic City is a terrible idea for the country. But, contrary to Alana’s assertion, this doesn’t make him an advocate of a nanny state. The analogy here is not so much to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on trans fats as it is the decision about whether this country will legalize marijuana or even heroin.

There are reasonable arguments to be made about ending the war on drugs, the same as there were good reasons for states to drop bans on casinos. But to argue that anyone who takes note of the plague of social pathologies the influx of casinos have brought with them wherever they have been built can’t also claim to be an advocate of limited government is off the mark.

Unlike real nanny state issues, legalized gambling is not so much a matter of private choice of a form of entertainment as much as it is one of enabling a business whereby the state profits from the exploitation of the poor and the middle class. While it can be asserted that individuals should have the right to become addicts and destroy their lives and families via gambling, the same can be said about heroin. The only difference right now is that government takes a hefty cut of the profit in gambling while the billions made from the drug trade now only go to criminals. Though legalization of drugs might be a money maker for states that face budget crunches, most Americans are rightly so horrified by the human cost of drug addiction they cannot stomach a measure that libertarians advocate.

When it comes to gambling, most of us are less squeamish. Perhaps that is because the destruction of lives and families that are caused by gambling don’t seem quite as shocking as habits that involve needles. And yet the link between gambling and crime is as strong as that of drugs.

Some also argue that the nature of drug use is such that they destroy more users than the percentage of gamblers who are dragged under by that addiction. That may be true, but society bans many things as dangerous that affect far fewer numbers of people than the vast number of Americans whose lives have been wrecked by legalized gambling. It is also true that one can make the same arguments against gambling at home on the Internet for alcohol, whose abuse probably does more damage than drugs and gambling combined. However, the difference is unlike the liquor industry, legalized gambling is something that always morphs into a quasi-government business.

Santorum speaks for many, if not most Americans, when he says encouraging the spread of legalized gambling isn’t good for the country. What’s more, it ill behooves conservatives or libertarians to be encouraging an industry whose main purpose has always been to encourage the growth of government. Far more than individual rights, it is big government that stands to gain the most from legalization. The untold billions it will gain from its share of the take in legalized Internet gambling will feed the same state leviathan conservatives and libertarians abhor.

While many may disagree with Santorum on this, Republicans needn’t fear the Obama campaign will use this against the GOP should the Pennsylvanian become the nominee. Though he may be out of step with popular culture on many issues, Santorum’s concerns about gambling are very much in the mainstream.

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Liberal Racism Canard Won’t Work

While Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 largely on the notion that he was a post-racial and post-partisan political figure, its rapidly becoming apparent that many Democrats are hoping he can be re-elected by smearing his opponents as racists. That’s the upshot of a feature in Politico today that takes note that many liberals are using the image of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer wagging her finger at the president during an airport confrontation as proof that Republicans are racially biased.

The idea that Brewer’s finger wagging was racist is beyond absurd. Their argument had nothing to do with race. Moreover, Obama has made a habit of lecturing and wagging his own finger at opponents while nose-to-nose with them. As Politico notes, Brewer was even criticized for noting that it was Obama who was attempting to intimidate her and that he was intolerant of criticism. But equally absurd is the idea that Obama has been subjected to more abuse than his predecessors or that Republicans are using “dog whistle” racist arguments to whip up sentiment against him. Having failed to govern effectively during his three-plus years in office, Obama can’t run on a record of success. So he must instead seek to demonize his opponents and, indeed, all critics, by trying to still their voices by making them fear they will be accused of the one political sin for which there is no forgiveness in contemporary Western society: racism.

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While Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 largely on the notion that he was a post-racial and post-partisan political figure, its rapidly becoming apparent that many Democrats are hoping he can be re-elected by smearing his opponents as racists. That’s the upshot of a feature in Politico today that takes note that many liberals are using the image of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer wagging her finger at the president during an airport confrontation as proof that Republicans are racially biased.

The idea that Brewer’s finger wagging was racist is beyond absurd. Their argument had nothing to do with race. Moreover, Obama has made a habit of lecturing and wagging his own finger at opponents while nose-to-nose with them. As Politico notes, Brewer was even criticized for noting that it was Obama who was attempting to intimidate her and that he was intolerant of criticism. But equally absurd is the idea that Obama has been subjected to more abuse than his predecessors or that Republicans are using “dog whistle” racist arguments to whip up sentiment against him. Having failed to govern effectively during his three-plus years in office, Obama can’t run on a record of success. So he must instead seek to demonize his opponents and, indeed, all critics, by trying to still their voices by making them fear they will be accused of the one political sin for which there is no forgiveness in contemporary Western society: racism.

Obama and his defenders seem to want to have it both ways. They believe the president should be free to lecture his critics and to employ the crudest sort of class warfare tactics to delegitimize opposing views. But they also seek to categorize any sign of resistance to Obama’s charms as a form of lèse-majesté. Presumably, when governors of states are being intimidated on airport tarmacs by thin-skinned presidents, the only proper attitude is for them to simply stand at attention and take it without demurral.

Obama has been subjected to some brutal criticism and a lot of disrespect, some of which is highly regrettable. But so was his immediate predecessor. Anger at Obama is but an echo of the liberal campaign to delegitimize George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Few in the chattering classes who now carry on about abuse of Obama ever gave a second thought to the vile things said about Bush and Cheney.

As for the dog whistle arguments, this is another form of political trickery that seeks to avoid discussion of certain topics. I’m no fan of Newt Gingrich, but his invocation of Obama as a food stamp president has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with his attempt to remind voters of the same arguments he made during the GOP’s successful attempt to reform welfare. The point is that Democrats like Obama who seek to perpetuate the dependence of the poor on the government — especially racial minorities — are doing far more harm than good. Pointing this out isn’t racism; it’s just sensible and realistic social policy.

Branding Republicans as racists is important for Democrats because so many leading GOP figures are themselves minorities. The Republicans are now a diverse party with Hispanics like Senator Marco Rubio and New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez, Indian-Americans like Governors Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley and, yes, African-Americans like Rep. Allen West and Herman Cain, who present an image of Obama’s opposition that liberals cannot abide. They must try therefore to tar them all with the brush of racism lest the debate focus on their rejection of liberal shibboleths. Talk of racism also mobilizes the Democratic base that is always ready to believe the worst of Republicans even if the charge is utterly without a basis in fact.

But the problem for Obama’s would-be defenders is the racism canard won’t work this time. Having been elected to the presidency on the idea that he was a man who rose above such concerns, it is impossible for him to seek re-election by employing Al Sharpton’s tactics. While prejudice is far from dead in America, the only people seeking to whip up racial resentment these days are liberals who hope to cow those who resent Obama and wish to hold him accountable for his failures. If he is to win in 2012, it will be because of the incompetence of his opponents or by a miraculous economic recovery. But the more time liberals spend time talking about Republican racism the less likely it will be that independents and wavering Democrats who are tired of Obama’s excuses will listen to them.

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Obama’s Israel Problem Cause of Democrat Losses Among Jews

As Florida voters went to the polls on Tuesday, those journalists trolling for evidence of a shift in the Jewish vote seized on a slight decline in Jewish turnout in the Republican primary as proof the GOP hadn’t made much progress. Those who did so were mistaken, because the sample size was so small and the willingness of Jews to change registration to vote in a primary isn’t indicative of how they’ll actually vote in November. But a new Pew Research Poll released this afternoon about party affiliation provides clear proof that a long-awaited shift among Jews away from the Democrats may have begun.

Republicans have gained nine percentage points in the last three years among Jewish voters polled about whether they identify with or lean toward either party. In 2008, Democrats led among Jews by a hefty 72 to 20 percent. In 2011, the margin was 65 to 29 percent. While that still gives the Democrats a commanding lead among Jews, the gain for the GOP could be enough to significantly affect a few states where the voting may be close this fall. Just as importantly, while some of this could be attributed to general dissatisfaction with the administration’s record on the economy, it will be difficult for Democrats to argue it is not also at least partly the fault of President Obama’s quarrels with Israel during the last three years.

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As Florida voters went to the polls on Tuesday, those journalists trolling for evidence of a shift in the Jewish vote seized on a slight decline in Jewish turnout in the Republican primary as proof the GOP hadn’t made much progress. Those who did so were mistaken, because the sample size was so small and the willingness of Jews to change registration to vote in a primary isn’t indicative of how they’ll actually vote in November. But a new Pew Research Poll released this afternoon about party affiliation provides clear proof that a long-awaited shift among Jews away from the Democrats may have begun.

Republicans have gained nine percentage points in the last three years among Jewish voters polled about whether they identify with or lean toward either party. In 2008, Democrats led among Jews by a hefty 72 to 20 percent. In 2011, the margin was 65 to 29 percent. While that still gives the Democrats a commanding lead among Jews, the gain for the GOP could be enough to significantly affect a few states where the voting may be close this fall. Just as importantly, while some of this could be attributed to general dissatisfaction with the administration’s record on the economy, it will be difficult for Democrats to argue it is not also at least partly the fault of President Obama’s quarrels with Israel during the last three years.

Because Republicans have gained only four points nationwide, it isn’t possible to argue the Democratic loss among the Jews is nothing special. Israel is the likely reason for the Democrats’ Jewish problem, because the GOP gain among Jews is higher than among any other religious group except for Mormons. The Mormon figures are certainly due to anticipation that Mitt Romney might become the first Latter-day Saint to ascend to the White House. But there is no reason to think Jews are unhappier than Catholics, Protestants, atheists or agnostics about the economy. The friction between Obama and Israel about the status of Jerusalem, the 1967 boundaries and settlements is the only possible explanation for Jews to be more disillusioned with the Democrats than other voters.

Many Democrats have spent the last two years publicly denying Obama would suffer politically for his slights of Israel and its leaders, but the White House’s Jewish charm offensive in the last several months belied this optimism. Obama’s exaggerated claim he has done more to enhance Israel’s security than any president in history is aimed at persuading Jews to forget his administration came into office bragging about how distancing itself from Israel was a change from George W. Bush’s policies. The nasty spats with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that followed have clearly taken their toll on his party’s ability to count on the loyalty of many Jews.

While this shift toward the GOP is significant, it is not a harbinger of a full realignment of Jewish voters. Most Jews are ideologically liberal and partisan Democrats and unlikely to vote Republican under almost any circumstance. Liberal Jews remain far more afraid of conservative Christians than Hamas terrorists and will always judge any Democratic candidate, even one like Obama who has demonstrated little real affinity for Israel, on a curve.

But that doesn’t mean Jewish swing voters don’t exist. It may not be realistic for Republicans to expect they will match Ronald Reagan’s record 39 percent of the vote in 1980 this year. But in Barack Obama they have a Democratic opponent who, like Jimmy Carter 32 years ago, is distinctly vulnerable on the issue of Israel. Were a Republican candidate able to gain the same nine points over the 22 percent share of the Jewish vote John McCain got in 2008 that could be enough to make the difference in a few crucial battleground states. If the two parties are closely matched in Pennsylvania and New Jersey but especially in Florida, a large Jewish turnout for the GOP could sink the president’s hopes for re-election.

Though Democrats already knew they were in trouble in the Jewish community, this poll will undoubtedly lead them to redouble their efforts this year to spin Obama’s record on Israel and to do everything they can to scare Jews away from the GOP. It will also give Republicans good reason to fight harder for the votes of a group that remains, after African-Americans, the second most Democratic sector of the electorate.

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Electoral Map Shifts to Obama’s Disfavor

In recent weeks, as the Republican presidential field has been busy tearing each other apart while the primaries heated up, Democrats have been feeling a lot better about their chances to re-elect Barack Obama. The spectacle of the GOP’s internecine warfare and slightly better, though by no means encouraging, economic statistics have led some to believe the president may have an easier time this fall than many had thought just a few months ago. But the latest Gallup survey of the president’s approval ratings tells a very different story. Breaking down the job approval numbers state by state, Gallup presents a picture that ought to be deeply distressing to the White House.

If you add up the states where the president has a net positive approval rating in 2011, you only get a total of 215 electoral votes, while those where he has a net negative rating amount to 323. If these numbers remain unchanged through the fall that would mean a decisive loss in the Electoral College for Obama.

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In recent weeks, as the Republican presidential field has been busy tearing each other apart while the primaries heated up, Democrats have been feeling a lot better about their chances to re-elect Barack Obama. The spectacle of the GOP’s internecine warfare and slightly better, though by no means encouraging, economic statistics have led some to believe the president may have an easier time this fall than many had thought just a few months ago. But the latest Gallup survey of the president’s approval ratings tells a very different story. Breaking down the job approval numbers state by state, Gallup presents a picture that ought to be deeply distressing to the White House.

If you add up the states where the president has a net positive approval rating in 2011, you only get a total of 215 electoral votes, while those where he has a net negative rating amount to 323. If these numbers remain unchanged through the fall that would mean a decisive loss in the Electoral College for Obama.

It is true the negative job approval numbers for 2011 are an average of the entire last year and not necessarily a snapshot of what people think today, let alone next November. It is also a poll that does not pit the president against an actual opponent but instead measures only what voters think about him. However, it is hard to argue that the daily tracking poll over a lengthy period is an aberration. It also appears, at least for the moment, that the Republicans are likely to nominate their most electable candidate in Mitt Romney.

Moreover, this map shows the divide between red state America and the blue has decisively shifted to the advantage of the former. In this formulation, Obama has put himself in position to lose every state south of the Mason-Dixon Line and every one west of the Mississippi except for California and Washington. Whereas Obama in 2008 was able to make inroads in the South and West, he now finds himself only ahead in the Northeast and in a few Democratic strongholds in the Midwest and the West. Most importantly, he is behind in terms of approval in most of the key battleground states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

None of this preordains a Republican victory in 2012. But when they stop chortling about the GOP attacks on Romney and Newt Gingrich, Democrats need to remind themselves a president with an approval rating in the mid-40s is in big trouble. If Obama is going to give himself a chance to be re-elected, he’s going to have do something to change that number or count on vacating the White House next January.

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A Diminished Obama Strikes a Tepid Tone

President Obama launched his re-election campaign tonight with a State of the Union speech that attempted to conjure up the spirit of an earlier era of national unity even as he sought to focus national resentment on wealthy Americans and his political opponents in Congress.

With no record of accomplishment to his credit, other than the unpopular Obamacare and stimulus, Obama put forward a limited agenda of government intervention in the economy and the tax code in a laundry list of initiatives that did little to break new ground on any issue and was bereft of the passion and vision that drove his 2008 campaign for the presidency. All in all, it was 65 minutes that ought to worry Democrats more than it annoyed Republicans.

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President Obama launched his re-election campaign tonight with a State of the Union speech that attempted to conjure up the spirit of an earlier era of national unity even as he sought to focus national resentment on wealthy Americans and his political opponents in Congress.

With no record of accomplishment to his credit, other than the unpopular Obamacare and stimulus, Obama put forward a limited agenda of government intervention in the economy and the tax code in a laundry list of initiatives that did little to break new ground on any issue and was bereft of the passion and vision that drove his 2008 campaign for the presidency. All in all, it was 65 minutes that ought to worry Democrats more than it annoyed Republicans.

The president knows he will get nothing passed this year, and his speech reflected that reality. He began and ended with the killing of Osama bin Laden. In between he spoke of a peace dividend from the end of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he would use on building projects and green energy production. He called for a massive bailout of homeowners even as he pandered to public opinion by saying there would be no more bailouts for banks. He vowed to prosecute those responsible for the mortgage crisis and said teenagers would no longer be allowed to drop out of high school, no matter how much trouble they were causing. No mention was made of either Obamacare or the stimulus. Nor did he speak of the Keystone XL pipeline project that he cancelled. He called for lower taxes, less regulation and more exploitation of our natural resources even though he has raised taxes, increased regulation and made it more difficult for the nation to use more of its oil and gas and that of our neighbor Canada.

On foreign affairs, Obama spoke of victory in Iraq and Afghanistan and pretended he had increased Iran’s isolation rather than wasting three years on failed engagement and feckless diplomacy that gave the Islamist regime more time to build a nuclear weapon. He claimed to be Israel’s greatest friend even though he has used his time in office to pick constant fights with the government of the Jewish state. The shout out to wavering liberal Jewish Democrats betrayed an administration clearly worried about November.

The only substantive portion of the speech dealt with his desire to raise taxes on millionaires. Even if he got his way and raised the rates for millionaires to 30 percent it would do little to deal with the deficit or pay for the runaway costs of entitlements. But that isn’t really the point of his advocacy. Obama isn’t interested in raising those taxes to achieve an economic purpose. He has seized on this phony issue in order to exploit it politically this fall. For all of his talk about unity, his decision to let loose the dogs of class warfare rhetoric doesn’t so much seek division as to treat it as his golden ticket to re-election.

While Democrats may have been encouraged in recent weeks by the spectacle of Republican presidential candidates tearing each other apart, often employing the rhetorical devices of the left, they could not have been encouraged by the tepid tone and lack of vision in Obama’s speech. His unwillingness to speak about what he has done and instead concentrate on bashing the rich seemed to be more the strategy of a challenger rather than an incumbent.

His claim that America “is back” was empty braggadocio that makes little sense given the grave state of the economy. Obama’s rally cry about American greatness seemed stuck in nostalgia for a bygone era of massive government spending projects and an economy based in manufacturing rather than information and technology. The result of this empty talk was a speech that struck a sour, flat note just when he needed to inspire.

All of this should cause Democrats to worry just at the moment when they were starting to feel good about 2012. Though the president has many advantages heading into the campaign, including weak potential opponents, his inability to stand on his record and his loss of faith in the grand vision he ran in 2008 foreshadows serious problems later this year.

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Unleashing the Dogs of Class Warfare

For one day at least the national political spotlight returns to the man Republicans are vying for the chance to defeat: President Barack Obama. Tonight’s State of the Union speech will be the unofficial start of his re-election campaign, and there should be plenty of not-so-subtle hints about the direction he will attempt to take the country in the coming years. Moreover, the invitation to billionaire Warren Buffet’s secretary — whom we are told pays taxes at a higher rate than her boss — to sit in the gallery, will no doubt signal that “fairness” or to be more blunt, class warfare, will be at the top of the agenda.

The release of Mitt Romney’s tax returns today is a serendipitous coincidence for a White House that will be eager to paint a picture of the Republicans as the party of the rich who are indifferent to the sufferings of those less fortunate. Though he was elected promising an era of post-partisanship, this president has tilted heavily to the left throughout his first term, and tonight’s speech ought to serve as a reminder for GOP voters of what they seek to avert: a second term in which Obama’s vision of expanded government will be further entrenched.

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For one day at least the national political spotlight returns to the man Republicans are vying for the chance to defeat: President Barack Obama. Tonight’s State of the Union speech will be the unofficial start of his re-election campaign, and there should be plenty of not-so-subtle hints about the direction he will attempt to take the country in the coming years. Moreover, the invitation to billionaire Warren Buffet’s secretary — whom we are told pays taxes at a higher rate than her boss — to sit in the gallery, will no doubt signal that “fairness” or to be more blunt, class warfare, will be at the top of the agenda.

The release of Mitt Romney’s tax returns today is a serendipitous coincidence for a White House that will be eager to paint a picture of the Republicans as the party of the rich who are indifferent to the sufferings of those less fortunate. Though he was elected promising an era of post-partisanship, this president has tilted heavily to the left throughout his first term, and tonight’s speech ought to serve as a reminder for GOP voters of what they seek to avert: a second term in which Obama’s vision of expanded government will be further entrenched.

We can expect to hear a great deal more about “fairness” in the next nine months as Democrats attempt to rally their electorate behind a banner of protection for out-of-control entitlement spending that will be paid for by hiking taxes on wealthier Americans. Obama’s challenge is how to sell the country on this agenda when they are less interested in soaking the rich than they are in measures that will help revive an economy that has sagged under the burden of increased spending during his tenure. Though the president will be trying to channel Harry Truman by campaigning against a “do-nothing” GOP House of Representatives, the reason why Republicans won the 2010 midterm elections was widespread public dismay at the two signature achievements of his first two years: Obamacare and the massive stimulus spending package.

Thus, the president’s task tonight is to continue the work of distracting the voters from the cost and the impact of his ideologically driven agenda by scaring the elderly about Medicare and Social Security and feeding off resentment of the rich. But while such demagoguery can be successful, it is not so easy to sustain it when most of the voters, especially the independents who will likely be decisive in November, judge the president’s worthiness for re-election more on the performance of the economy on his watch than anything else.

Obama’s speech will excite his base, but it ought to concentrate the minds of Republicans on what they are up against this year. If they truly wish to avert a second term in which Obamacare will be made a permanent part of our infrastructure as well as unchecked taxes and spending, then they had better spend more time alerting the voters to this danger than echoing Democratic attacks on each other.

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Appeasing Ron Paul Won’t Work

As Alana noted, Republicans are rightly concerned about Ron Paul playing a destructive role in the presidential campaign this fall. Efforts to keep him on the reservation are already beginning, and there is little doubt the significant number of delegates he may win for the party’s national convention in Tampa will have to be dealt with carefully lest they cause trouble and sabotage what will in all likelihood be Mitt Romney’s coronation.

But I think the GOP would be foolish to go too far in seeking to make nice with Paul. His followers are just as likely to vote for Barack Obama or simply stay home as they are to back Romney or any other mainstream Republican. That’s why giving Paul a prime time speech at the convention would be a disaster.

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As Alana noted, Republicans are rightly concerned about Ron Paul playing a destructive role in the presidential campaign this fall. Efforts to keep him on the reservation are already beginning, and there is little doubt the significant number of delegates he may win for the party’s national convention in Tampa will have to be dealt with carefully lest they cause trouble and sabotage what will in all likelihood be Mitt Romney’s coronation.

But I think the GOP would be foolish to go too far in seeking to make nice with Paul. His followers are just as likely to vote for Barack Obama or simply stay home as they are to back Romney or any other mainstream Republican. That’s why giving Paul a prime time speech at the convention would be a disaster.

The analogy Charles Krauthammer made to Pat Buchanan’s culture war speech at the 1992 convention is quite instructive. Though his address has gone down in history as a devastating embarrassment for the elder President Bush and his party, its text was not as crazy as most people remember. In comparison to one of Ron Paul’s crackpot rants about the Federal Reserve and the destructive role America has played in the postwar world, the social conservative battle cry delivered by Buchanan in Houston looks fairly normal.

As Krauthammer noted, libertarianism’s role as a critique of big government has deeply influenced the modern Republican Party. But there is huge difference between the Tea Party and the extremism articulated by Paul. His conspiratorial view of the economic system sometimes seems to have more in common with the Occupy Wall Street movement than it does with the legacy of Ronald Reagan. His isolationism and willingness to rationalize the motives and actions of America’s Islamist enemies is not merely isolationist, it is an expression of the worst sort of radicalism that has no place in the Republican Party or any other political faction that seeks to win mainstream support or to govern.

That’s why the efforts of Romney and other Republicans to bring Paul’s supporters into a big GOP tent are bound to fail. That may create problems at the convention and provide fodder for liberal journalists looking for story lines that undermine Republican hopes for defeating Obama. But the silver lining to that cloud for Republicans is the fact that many of Paul’s backers were never going to vote Republican anyway. Romney will lose far more votes in the center by appeasing Paul than he will gain on the margins. The sooner he and the rest of the GOP realize this, the better.

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Exaggerating the Paul Effect

After strong showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Ron Paul is starting to get some respect from the media, even if it is grudging. But while no one, not even Paul himself, seems to believe the libertarian extremist is any threat to steal the Republican nomination from Mitt Romney, there is growing sentiment that his appeal to young voters, Democrats and independents will be a problem for the GOP frontrunner in the coming months as well as the general election.

While Paul has tapped into some Tea Party support outside of his own constituency with his rigid stance against virtually all government spending, the idea that he could sabotage Romney with an unlikely third party run or that his supporters could cost the Republicans the election in November is, at best, an exaggeration. Paul’s top three finishes in the first two states to hold primaries were the result of him bring bringing out to the polls voters who are attracted to political outliers and protest candidates. Though any group, no matter how small, may prove decisive in a close election, Romney’s presidential hopes will not rest on the affections of youngsters who want to legalize pot or those who like Paul’s isolationist foreign policy. Even more to the point, as the primary season advances and Paul’s results start to decline, talk of his influence on the election will fade.

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After strong showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Ron Paul is starting to get some respect from the media, even if it is grudging. But while no one, not even Paul himself, seems to believe the libertarian extremist is any threat to steal the Republican nomination from Mitt Romney, there is growing sentiment that his appeal to young voters, Democrats and independents will be a problem for the GOP frontrunner in the coming months as well as the general election.

While Paul has tapped into some Tea Party support outside of his own constituency with his rigid stance against virtually all government spending, the idea that he could sabotage Romney with an unlikely third party run or that his supporters could cost the Republicans the election in November is, at best, an exaggeration. Paul’s top three finishes in the first two states to hold primaries were the result of him bring bringing out to the polls voters who are attracted to political outliers and protest candidates. Though any group, no matter how small, may prove decisive in a close election, Romney’s presidential hopes will not rest on the affections of youngsters who want to legalize pot or those who like Paul’s isolationist foreign policy. Even more to the point, as the primary season advances and Paul’s results start to decline, talk of his influence on the election will fade.

One factor that will quickly diminish Paul’s prominence is that most of the rest of the primaries will not be open to the independents and Democrats whose votes inflated the Texas congressman’s totals. Polls in South Carolina and Florida — the next two states to hold primaries — show Paul dropping out of the top tier of GOP contenders. If Paul’s supporters at his New Hampshire headquarters were acting as if they won the Super Bowl last night, it was because for them it was. His distant second place finish there was as good as it’s going to get for him.

Paul doubled the votes he received in both Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008, and that’s an indication his movement has gained some traction. But it will soon be apparent it is just as marginal in terms of Republican sentiment in 2012 as it was four years ago. The idea that Romney could or should pander to Paul’s supporters is bad politics as well as virtually impossible. The common ground between this group and the rest of the GOP is too narrow to allow it.

One only had to listen to his lengthy rant last night to understand that a group led by a man who obsesses about the Federal Reserve and views the United States as the moral equivalent of the Soviet Union is not someone who can or should be allowed to influence the Republican platform or party policy in any way. Romney has been careful to treat Paul with respect. Perhaps too careful for my taste, though it is no more cynical than the way Democrats have treated their outliers and extremists in the past.

Some of those Republicans who voted for Paul as a protest vote will probably stay loyal to the party in November because they despise Barack Obama. But undoubtedly many of Paul’s independents and Democrats will stay home or vote for Obama, as they did four years ago. If Paul runs on his own (and given his concern for his son’s future in the GOP I doubt that will happen), I think he’ll take as many if not more votes from Obama than the Republican candidate.

Romney can use all the help he can get this year, but his path to victory in November will be by attracting centrist independents and Democrats, not voters who are primarily interested in legalizing drugs or opposing American foreign deployments. Though it would be wrong to completely ignore Paul, once his primary vote totals start dropping down to single digits, it isn’t likely many will still be saying much about him.

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Is Romney Really More Electable?

A constant refrain from conservatives in the past few months has been that Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy is merely a re-run of past failed runs by GOP moderates like Bob Dole and John McCain. According to their reasoning, a candidate like Romney can’t fire up the Republican base and get them to turn out (the conceit behind Karl Rove’s successful campaigns for George W. Bush) in large enough numbers to win in November. Even more than that, conservatives assert that more Americans will be attracted to a conviction conservative (i.e. Ronald Reagan) than to a wishy-washy Republican who tried to be all things to all people. Romney’s centrist appeal to independents is, they claim, a snare that has trapped the GOP into putting up certain losers.

While Romney and his supporters have treated this line of attack as more the result of self-interest by his rivals than genuine analysis, these are serious arguments, and the former Massachusetts governor’s chance to win the nomination will turn on his ability to answer such challenges. Even more importantly, with the rise of Rick Santorum, it must be conceded that Republicans now have someone who is, as Charles Krauthammer noted this week on Fox News, plausibly presidential and who might actually test the conservative thesis.

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A constant refrain from conservatives in the past few months has been that Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy is merely a re-run of past failed runs by GOP moderates like Bob Dole and John McCain. According to their reasoning, a candidate like Romney can’t fire up the Republican base and get them to turn out (the conceit behind Karl Rove’s successful campaigns for George W. Bush) in large enough numbers to win in November. Even more than that, conservatives assert that more Americans will be attracted to a conviction conservative (i.e. Ronald Reagan) than to a wishy-washy Republican who tried to be all things to all people. Romney’s centrist appeal to independents is, they claim, a snare that has trapped the GOP into putting up certain losers.

While Romney and his supporters have treated this line of attack as more the result of self-interest by his rivals than genuine analysis, these are serious arguments, and the former Massachusetts governor’s chance to win the nomination will turn on his ability to answer such challenges. Even more importantly, with the rise of Rick Santorum, it must be conceded that Republicans now have someone who is, as Charles Krauthammer noted this week on Fox News, plausibly presidential and who might actually test the conservative thesis.

Conservatives are right to point out that without the enthusiastic support of his party’s base, Romney will be fatally handicapped in a general election. Though it is unfair to paint him, as some have done, as a closet liberal, Romney’s image as a technocratic problem-solver who eschews ideology is not unfair and has made him a hard sell for Tea Partiers and social conservatives. The belief in his electability rests on the assumption that the desire to unseat Barack Obama is so strong among conservatives that it will overwhelm their reluctance to back Romney. That makes Romney’s ability to win the support of independents and even some disillusioned centrist Democrats who would be unlikely to pull the lever for a hard-core conservative a formula for Republican victory in 2012.

The question Republicans must answer in the coming weeks and months is whether there is a different and equally appealing alternative path to a GOP win. The problem for those who were appalled at the idea of nominating a moderate like Romney was that flawed contenders like Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Perry were fronting the conservative argument. Though Santorum also has liabilities, his serious approach to issues of governance and foreign policy as well as an exemplary personal life allows him to put himself forward as a candidate more in the conviction conservative mode of a Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush than Romney. Moreover, as David Brooks pointed out in a perceptive column in today’s New York Times, Santorum’s impassioned pitch to working-class voters fits exactly with the blueprint for GOP success in the past than Romney’s business executive image.

The potential flaw in this thesis however is that unlike the sunny Reagan or the amiable younger Bush, it is far from certain the preachy Santorum can connect with centrists. While both of those Republican presidents had impeccable social conservative credentials, they didn’t come across as fiery culture warriors the way Santorum does. Now that he’s out of Iowa, the former senator needs to work on scaling back the fire and brimstone and emphasize the compassionate element of his conservatism, as he did when he reacted movingly to criticisms of his family’s method of coping with the death of a child.

Given Santorum’s potential problems, it must be said that Romney still has the stronger argument for electability. But if Santorum can work on humanizing his image while somehow overcoming the enormous disadvantages he has in terms of money and organization to actually compete for the nomination, then it must be conceded he might also have a shot at beating Obama.

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Obama Shouldn’t Be Encouraged By Iowa

The conventional wisdom among liberals is that despite a sinking economy and poor personal polling numbers, President Obama is actually in a good position to be re-elected. Democratic optimism stems from a belief that the Republican field is so poor the president can’t help but be made to look good by comparison. The evidence of considerable support for Ron Paul, who is a genuine problem for the Republicans, the unlikely rise of Rick Santorum, the comic antics and mishaps afflicting Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and the now withdrawn Herman Cain have been enough to convince even some conservative commentators that the GOP dustup in Iowa has been an embarrassment for the party.

But Obama and his political team would be well advised to put aside this foolish optimism. The GOP field’s behavior hasn’t always been edifying, but the way the race has developed is not to the president’s advantage. Whether or not Mitt Romney finishes in first tonight, the most electable Republican will emerge from the state strengthened and with no credible alternative in position to stop him. That is the last thing Obama wanted to see happen in Iowa and what will follow in the upcoming states is likely to bring him even worse news.

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The conventional wisdom among liberals is that despite a sinking economy and poor personal polling numbers, President Obama is actually in a good position to be re-elected. Democratic optimism stems from a belief that the Republican field is so poor the president can’t help but be made to look good by comparison. The evidence of considerable support for Ron Paul, who is a genuine problem for the Republicans, the unlikely rise of Rick Santorum, the comic antics and mishaps afflicting Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and the now withdrawn Herman Cain have been enough to convince even some conservative commentators that the GOP dustup in Iowa has been an embarrassment for the party.

But Obama and his political team would be well advised to put aside this foolish optimism. The GOP field’s behavior hasn’t always been edifying, but the way the race has developed is not to the president’s advantage. Whether or not Mitt Romney finishes in first tonight, the most electable Republican will emerge from the state strengthened and with no credible alternative in position to stop him. That is the last thing Obama wanted to see happen in Iowa and what will follow in the upcoming states is likely to bring him even worse news.

So long as the political focus is on the clown car of candidates who won’t be nominated by the Republicans, it’s easy for Democrats to claim their opponents are a joke. But the cavalcade of conservative contenders who each took a turn proving they weren’t ready for prime time only served to pave the way for the one Republican who poses a real threat to Obama: Mitt Romney. That was not the most likely outcome of this contest as Romney’s lack of a connection to Tea Partiers and social conservatives had seemed certain to doom his candidacy back in the summer.

As to whether having to compete with right-wingers will taint Romney, here again, Democrats are letting their wishes override common sense. Romney needed to reach out to conservatives to make it a little easier for them to make their peace with him once he’s the nominee. A lot of people on the right are unhappy about the prospect of a man whom they believe to be a soulless, non-ideological technocrat leading their party. But if Obama really thinks most conservatives would prefer to stay home in November and let him be re-elected, he’s dreaming.

The point about the GOP also-rans is though they are the center of attention today, they will quickly fade from the spotlight once their candidacies end. That end will come sooner for some than others. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum appear to be set up for a long primary run against Romney as the GOP’s delegate selection rules always intended. But the contrast will not hurt the eventual nominee in the eyes of the general public. Paul’s prominence is a problem to Republicans. However, his presence in the race will be an opportunity for Romney to emphasize his mainstream views on foreign policy and his opposition to extremism. That won’t hurt him in the general election.

Nor will the exercise of having to stay on his toes on the stump for an extra few months. In particular, Santorum may well do his party a service by serving as the eventual nominee’s tough but not dirty sparring partner. The result will be a better Republican candidate next fall. Like the strange turn of events that left Romney as the inevitable nominee, this isn’t good news for Obama or his party.

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Obama’s Iran Promises: Security or Votes?

A month ago, Jeffrey Goldberg provoked a fair amount of scorn for proclaiming his belief that Barack Obama would “save Israel” from a nuclear Iran. But though Goldberg’s faith in the president’s willingness to use force to stop the Iranian nuclear program goes against everything we’ve learned about Obama in the last three years, Washington appears to be trying to sell the same bill of goods to the Israelis. As Eli Lake reported yesterday in the Daily Beast, “the Obama administration is trying to assure Israel privately that it would strike Iran militarily if Tehran’s nuclear program crosses certain ‘red lines,’ while attempting to dissuade the Israelis from acting unilaterally.”

Given the problems a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran would entail, these assurances might be enough to dissuade the Netanyahu government from acting on its own. But given the contradictory signals the administration has been sending about the use of force on Iran and the differences between the two countries over intelligence on the threat that Lake reports, there is little reason for Jerusalem to be comforted by Obama’s promises. Israel’s leaders would be well advised to see this latest shift on Iran as intended more to convince American voters of the president’s good intentions than to make Tehran step back from the brink.

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A month ago, Jeffrey Goldberg provoked a fair amount of scorn for proclaiming his belief that Barack Obama would “save Israel” from a nuclear Iran. But though Goldberg’s faith in the president’s willingness to use force to stop the Iranian nuclear program goes against everything we’ve learned about Obama in the last three years, Washington appears to be trying to sell the same bill of goods to the Israelis. As Eli Lake reported yesterday in the Daily Beast, “the Obama administration is trying to assure Israel privately that it would strike Iran militarily if Tehran’s nuclear program crosses certain ‘red lines,’ while attempting to dissuade the Israelis from acting unilaterally.”

Given the problems a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran would entail, these assurances might be enough to dissuade the Netanyahu government from acting on its own. But given the contradictory signals the administration has been sending about the use of force on Iran and the differences between the two countries over intelligence on the threat that Lake reports, there is little reason for Jerusalem to be comforted by Obama’s promises. Israel’s leaders would be well advised to see this latest shift on Iran as intended more to convince American voters of the president’s good intentions than to make Tehran step back from the brink.

Obama’s pledges to Israel lack credibility for a number of reasons.

First, is the fact that up until this month, every statement coming out of Washington was intended to pour cold water on the idea of an American attack on Iran even as a last resort. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s statements to this effect just a few weeks ago could only have been interpreted by Iran as a clear indication of this administration’s lack of interest in another Middle East conflict even over as serious a threat as a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Islamist regime.

Second, is Obama’s obvious reluctance to use the one economic weapon at his disposal that might actually have an impact on Iran: an oil embargo. In order to make an embargo work, the United States would have to enact a ban on dealing with any company that did business with Iran’s Central Bank. But Obama has so far refused to do so for fear of raising oil prices in an election year. There is also the fact that this administration, like its predecessor, has refused to enforce the existing weak sanctions on Iran. Since Obama has so far been unable to muster the will to enact crippling sanctions that might convince the ayatollahs to back down, how are we, or the Israelis, to believe he would go even farther and order a strike on Iran?

More persuasive is the thesis that this sudden desire to look tough on Iran is all about the 2012 presidential election. While the last three years have resulted in no action on Iran (unless, that is, you count, empty promises to do something about the problem), the president knows he is vulnerable to charges that his “engagement” policy and subsequent years of feckless diplomacy shows his indifference to the nature of the Iranian threat. He may believe that if he can convince the Israelis not to act in the next year he can get away with more tough talk while diplomacy and weak sanctions continue to fail. Even if, as seems likely, his foreign policy team would rather find a way to live with an Iranian nuke than use force to stop them, that’s not a stand he would prefer to campaign on next fall.

The nightmare scenario for Obama is an Iranian nuclear breakthrough in the next ten months. Having solemnly promised that such an event would never be allowed to happen on his watch, he would be forced to either act or back down and then be judged by the voters. Selling the American people on “containment” of Iranian nukes is something he may think he can get away with in a second term, not a re-election campaign.

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Capitol Hill Fiasco Again Shows Why Obama is No Pushover

Watching House Republicans steer their party straight into a ditch over their failure to pass a version of the payroll tax cut has been like observing a car crash in slow motion. But along with the backbiting and second-guessing that have done little to enhance the reputation of the GOP House caucus or that of their leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor, the debacle also ought to illustrate to Republicans the political resiliency of President Obama and the fact that a GOP victory in the 2012 election is not a foregone conclusion.

That’s an important lesson. Many Republicans have approached the presidential nomination process as if any GOP candidate with a pulse could beat Obama. The ease with which the president has run rings around Boehner on the payroll tax cut not only should bring back disturbing memories of how Bill Clinton beat Newt Gingrich like a drum back in the 1990s but should also show what happens when ideological inflexibility on the part of the GOP allows the Democratic incumbent to play to the center as well as to the left. A few more debacles like this one and Obama won’t have to channel Harry Truman in order to portray his opponents as do-nothing losers.

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Watching House Republicans steer their party straight into a ditch over their failure to pass a version of the payroll tax cut has been like observing a car crash in slow motion. But along with the backbiting and second-guessing that have done little to enhance the reputation of the GOP House caucus or that of their leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor, the debacle also ought to illustrate to Republicans the political resiliency of President Obama and the fact that a GOP victory in the 2012 election is not a foregone conclusion.

That’s an important lesson. Many Republicans have approached the presidential nomination process as if any GOP candidate with a pulse could beat Obama. The ease with which the president has run rings around Boehner on the payroll tax cut not only should bring back disturbing memories of how Bill Clinton beat Newt Gingrich like a drum back in the 1990s but should also show what happens when ideological inflexibility on the part of the GOP allows the Democratic incumbent to play to the center as well as to the left. A few more debacles like this one and Obama won’t have to channel Harry Truman in order to portray his opponents as do-nothing losers.

Republican optimism about 2012 is rooted in a situation that ought to make them the odds-on favorites next year to win back the White House. The president has historically low poll numbers and a terrible economic record. Even the Obama-friendly New York Times conceded this morning in a front-page article that hopes for a recovery are misplaced and economic growth will likely ground to a halt in the first half of 2012.

But as poor as his leadership has been, Obama has all the advantages of incumbency. He also has the ability to demagogue congressional Republicans in a manner that can help shape the contours of the coming election. A campaign that tilts as far to the left (as his appears to be doing) may have trouble attracting independents. But what Obama is trying to do is to set up his opponents as being not merely a band of right-wing extremists who care nothing about working people but also as a pack of incorrigible incompetents.

Such charges may be as unfair as the Democrats’ Mediscare attacks on Paul Ryan’s attempt to reform entitlements, yet after the ill-managed debt-ceiling crisis and this month’s tax cut shenanigans, it’s a label that may well stick.

It’s no surprise that the GOP presidential candidates have run for cover on the payroll tax cut issue. But above all, this episode should concentrate the minds of Republicans on the fact that the general election will be the fight of their lives, not the walkover some partisans expect.

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