William Galston

The emerging conventional wisdom among many Democrats takes the form of two equations: 2012 = 2004, and Bain = Swift Boats. There’s also a supporting narrative: The negative campaign against John Kerry fatally weakened his candidacy, securing the victory of an incumbent who could not have won based on his own record. And so, the idea goes, a president whose performance the public doesn’t much like can power his way to a narrow, less than pretty win by eviscerating his challenger. But the evidence in favor of all of these propositions is remarkably thin.

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In my continuing search for evidence that the Obama campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney and Bain Capital are significantly changing the presidential race, I reviewed three surveys released in the past 24 hours. Once again, there are few signs that it has—so far. Consider first the latest CBS/NYT national survey, which shows Romney leading Obama 47 to 46. In both April and May, this survey gave Romney 46 percent of the popular vote.

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In the eyes of the media and most political observers, the past week has been a large negative for Mitt Romney. After all, they say, each day spent talking about Romney’s record at Bain rather than Obama’s record on job creation is a plus for the Obama campaign. That’s Chapter 1 of the negative campaigning manual, and it sounds completely plausible. The difficulty is that, thus far, it’s surprisingly difficult to find evidence that this exchange is changing voters’ minds. In the first place, the national tracking polls haven’t budged.

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President Obama’s team perhaps once hoped to reenact Ronald Reagan’s triumphant 1984 march to reelection. But it’s now clear that they’re condemned to repeat George W. Bush’s much less inspiring campaign in 2004. The playbook is clear: A barrage of negative advertising to define your opponent before he can define himself; a stream of issues and events to mobilize your base; and a meticulous ground game to squeeze every last vote out of the base come November.

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JERUSALEM—The long-running Israeli debate over who should be required to perform military or civilian service is coming to a head once again, heightening just about every fault-line in the country—religious versus secular, Jews versus Arabs, left versus right. How this debate is resolved will influence not only the composition and duration of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition, but also the future development of Israeli society. The reason is this: Mandatory service is not just a policy decision; it goes to the heart of Israel’s identity.

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In a stunning decision that will define his legacy as chief justice, John Roberts broke with the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc and provided the fifth vote to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. While declining to uphold the Act under the Commerce Clause, Roberts argued that the mandate could pass constitutional muster as an exercise of Congress’s power to tax.

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The past month has seen the momentum of the 2012 presidential election shift significantly. The national race is now in a virtual dead heat, and most key swing states are within the margin of error. And most important, it appears that Mitt Romney has expanded the playing field to include some states previously thought to be securely in President Obama’s column—including, in my view, Pennsylvania. I base these conclusions on an analysis of surveys conducted since the beginning of June. Here’s what they show.

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Today in Cleveland, President Obama jettisoned the theme of economic inequality that had suffused his economic speeches for more than six months, focusing instead on “how we grow faster, how we create more jobs, and how we pay down our debt.” The real issue, he said, is how we reverse the “erosion of middle-class jobs and middle-class incomes.” In making that claim, Obama doubled down on the guiding assumption of his campaign—that he can turn the 2012 election into a choice between two models for the future, rather than a referendum on his first term.

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We live in disordered political times, when visceral antipathy to Barack Obama’s agenda drives even reasonable conservatives to say things they should know are not true. The reaction to the president’s unfortunate remark about the condition of the private sector is a perfect example. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana said this: “He [Obama] does not understand where wealth and jobs come from. It comes from a successful private sector or not at all … Government does not create wealth or income.

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It’s always a mistake to over-interpret a single state or local election, because special circumstances unrepresentative of broader trends may have had a large effect on the outcome. Would Barrett have done better if he had been able to deploy against Walker the months and millions he was forced to divert to win his party primary before the recall? What if he had enjoyed the full-throated support of his party from President Obama on down?

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