Jonathan Bernstein

Richard Lugar’s loss in Tuesday night’s primary has been heralded by commenters on both sides of the aisle as a harbinger of doom for moderate Republicans. The conventional wisdom has quickly congealed: Lugar lost because he voted for Barack Obama’s Supreme Court candidates, worked with Obama on an arms control treaty, and was generally not partisan enough for a GOP dominated by the Tea Party. That interpretation is plausible. But it’s not the only, or even the most likely scenario.

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Several people are calling the Supreme Court sessions on the Affordable Care Act the most important since Bush v. Gore. The case is certainly critically important to the fate of the law, and with it the future of health care, the federal budget, and perhaps the U.S. economy. But you know what’s not riding on the Court’s decision, despite plenty of hype? The 2012 election. The truth is that the decision in this case will likely have little or no effect on Obama v. Romney. There are two reasons for this. First, most events have much less staying power than we expect they do.

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Regardless of whether Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum comes out ahead in Ohio later today, Super Tuesday already promises to make at least one growing segment of America’s political class gleeful: caucus skeptics. Of the ten events scheduled for today, only those in North Dakota, Idaho, and Alaska will tally votes by means of a caucus rather than a primary election, and most attention will be elsewhere. But, even if it’s temporarily pacified, the anti-caucus sentiment that has been burgeoning in the wake of the various vote-counting follies in Iowa, Nevada, and Maine is sure to crop up again.

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Even with the major distraction of a Republican presidential primary, tonight’s State of the Union speech will be guaranteed to, however briefly, capture the undivided attention of all political junkies. They’re not wrong: The annual tradition does matter. And yet the conventional wisdom about the importance of the speech tends to be almost exactly backwards. You can see the typical press approach in The New York Times preview of the speech earlier this week.

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In his speech last Tuesday in Osawatomie, Kansas, President Obama initiated a new campaign to pressure Senate Republicans to drop their filibuster against Consumer Financial Protection Bureau nominee Richard Cordray and actually vote on his confirmation.

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Newt Gingrich is having an impressive national polling surge. His chances of grabbing the GOP presidential nomination have spiked up to over 30 percent at Intrade this week, and the media is full of stories about whether it’s time to start taking him seriously. Here’s my advice: don’t. None of the recent polling means he’s going to win the Republican nomination, nor does it even mean that he’s going to have a serious shot at it.

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Politics is a serious business. Despite the best efforts of some, it’s not a form of reality television. Instead, it’s the way that we distribute the costs and benefits of our collective life; it’s an opportunity to express and fight for our deepest values in the view of our fellow-citizens; and it’s … uh … what was that third thing? Oops. I’m sorry; I know that particular joke has long since passed its sell-by date.

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With the November 23 deadline nearly upon us, there’s a broad consensus that the Joint Select (Super) Committee won’t get anything done, which means that the clock will start on a “trigger”—that is, a series of budget cuts, including cuts to Defense spending and Medicare providers, that are scheduled to begin taking effect in January 2013. Since the trigger was devised to be unpopular with everyone in order to force Democrats and Republicans into making a deal, the next and obvious step will be for various factions in congress to try to eliminate the portions of the trigger they don’t like.

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It’s hard to fathom who could be excited by the recent revelation that an additional 13 nationally televised Republican presidential debates have been scheduled to take place between now and the end of January. We’ve already endured eight thus far; four are scheduled for this month, then another three in December, and possibly as many as six will take place in January. Indeed, Rick Perry was almost certainly not alone when he complained (but later was forced to backpedal) about the sheer number of the debates this election cycle.

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Take a moment to imagine the following GOP presidential field: two popular, former big-state governors (one a former U.S. Treasury secretary, the other a hero of the conservative movement), two Hall of Fame senators (one of them a former vice-presidential nominee, the other a future White House chief of staff), a former CIA director, ambassador, and party chair, and a couple of miscellaneous House members. Not bad, right? That’s your Republican candidate field in 1980: Ronald Reagan, John Connally, Howard Baker, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, John Anderson, and Phil Crane.

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