William Galston

The publication of the latest tick-tock story on the collapse of last summer’s Obama-Boehner budget talks has triggered a new round of dueling interpretations. Who really killed the grand bargain? Was it a speaker out of touch with his caucus, or a president who couldn’t make up his mind? There’s no doubt that both leaders have made mistakes, but all these breathless sagas suffer from the same flaw: They divert us from the structural facts that shape political outcomes.

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During his press conference on March 6, Barack Obama remarked that there’s “no silver bullet” to stem rising gas prices in the short term—and in the view of most energy experts, he’s right. The problem, though, is that the American people don’t agree. In the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, made public the day before the president spoke, 55 percent said that the government has a “great deal” or “quite a bit” of control over gas prices.

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In the modest guise of a book review, Ruy Teixeira has reopened an important issue in American politics: Who are the swing voters, and how important are they in these hyperpolarized times? The answer matters a lot, both for campaign strategy and for the conduct of elected officials. If swing voters are insignificant, then campaigns and incumbents can focus on mobilization—that is, on whipping up the fervor of those who already support them.

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This year’s Super Tuesday will be “super” in the most obvious way: Ten states with a total of 437 delegates will make their decisions on the same day. What will be the upshot of all these contests? Below, a guide to what is likely to happen and how to interpret the results: Super Tuesday won’t prove decisive. This is true for two reasons. First, all ten states are using some variant of a proportional system to award delegates. Some are looking to statewide vote totals, while others focus on the results within congressional districts.

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While neither political party has a monopoly on “community,” in recent years Democrats have been more inclined than Republicans to invoke it—none more conspicuously than Barack Obama. In the peroration of the 2012 State of the Union address, he declared that “No one built this country on their own. This nation is great because we built it together. This nation is great because we worked as a team.” A month earlier, in the city where Theodore Roosevelt delivered his landmark “New Nationalism” speech, Obama argued that “Our success has never just been about the survival of the fittest.

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It’s all but official: Survey after survey indicates that President Obama’s reelection prospects have brightened considerably in the past three months. Pundits and campaign professionals have tried to explain this development by focusing on factors such as the White House’s new post-debt ceiling message and the damage the Republican primary process seems to have inflicted on Mitt Romney. But the real causes of this shift are much more fundamental—namely, that Americans now believe their country’s economic health is improving.

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The furor over the Obama administration’s contraception coverage decision has generated a spate of articles proclaiming the return of the social issues in the 2012 campaign. But while they’re being discussed more, I doubt that they’ll prove decisive. Unless something drastic happens between now and November, trends in employment and real income will determine the result. Now comes the traditional “to be sure” paragraph. To be sure, it’s possible to sketch a scenario in which the social issues matter a lot.

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Some time ago, I suggested that the 2012 election would hinge on three variables: the identity of the Republican nominee, the thrust of the Obama campaign’s reelection strategy, and the progress of the economy. While the first two have come into focus, the third presents a puzzle, because recent economic reports are not consistent with the forecasts for 2012. This is an analytical distinction that makes a political difference: If the forecasts are right, history suggests that the president’s reelection prospects are dicey at best.

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Mitt Romney’s strong performance in the second Florida debate deprived Newt Gingrich of his last chance to maintain the boost he got from his South Carolina victory. Unless something significant happens before January 31, Romney will beat Gingrich in the Sunshine State by a double-digit margin and regain his standing as the front-runner for the Republican nomination. After a quiet February, he’ll deploy his edge in money, organization, and preparation to defeat Gingrich the way Grant defeated Lee—by inexorably grinding him down.

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