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Riding the Tiger > Category: 2012 Election

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Election Year Politics: Don’t Expect a Gun Law Showdown

President Clinton Addresses Gun Laws in his 2000 State of the Union Address in the wake of the Columbine, Colorado Tragedy.

In the wake of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, there is a window of opportunity to discuss gun laws because people are paying attention. The real question is whether the presidential candidates will have enough courage to seize the moment and begin a national dialogue on gun laws. After all, Aurora is not singular incident. Indeed, just three days before, a man carrying an assault weapon fired into a crowded bar in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, leaving 17 injured, and indeed other recent examples abound. Instead of engaging in a real, albeit difficult, debate over the issues, both presidential candidates have focused on comforting victims and have hidden behind the argument of supporting of the Second Amendment. President Obama appears unwilling to risk losing support from swing voters, while Mitt Romney appears unwilling to go against the party line.

Although President Obama pledged to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, he hasn’t pursued it. Moreover, he’s not going to act on any new gun control initiatives in a close election year when he might lose voters who support gun rights. Instead, as Press Secretary Jay Carney put it on Sunday, “He believes we need to take steps that protect Second Amendment rights of the American people but that ensure that we are not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons.” President Obama might be able to afford to take for granted those in his party who support gun control, they’re unlikely to defect to the Republican Party, after all. On the other hand, not acting adds to the list of items the president has not delivered to his constituency and that could depress supporter turnout.

On the other side of the aisle, Mitt Romney gave his position yesterday, reiterating that there isn’t a need to renew the federal ban on assault rifles. Never mind the fact that as governor of Massachusetts he signed a ban on assault weapons and quadrupled the fee for gun licenses. As a presidential candidate, Romney is of course towing the party line.

Should Voter Preferences Matter in Veep Selection?

Mitt Romney speaking to supporters at a rally in Tempe, Arizona.

Mitt Romney speaking to supporters at a rally in Tempe, Arizona, April 20, 2012. Photo by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA.

One of the factors presidential nominees consider or are faced with is a call from factions within their own parties for a particular vice presidential running mate. While the presidential nominee ultimately decides, along the way countless pundits, party leaders and other members of the political class weigh in with suggestions on who might excite the party base, who might help unite party factions behind the presidential ticket or who might carry the party to victory in the general election. But where do voter preferences fit in this process? Do they matter in veep selection? Evidence from this election and a previous one suggest they don’t. Among the most important criterion is a vice presidential candidate’s ability to demonstrate presidential leadership and to be ready to assume the number one position on day one. So if the vice president is supposed to be prepared to represent the whole people, should voter preferences matter in the selection process?

Although most voters don’t pay attention to vice presidential candidates when they cast their ballot, enough people do that it can tip most close elections. Thus, in this close election year, who Mitt Romney selects might matter more for voters than in other years. A CBS/New York Times poll last week found that vice presidential selection will matter “a lot” to about one quarter of voters and somewhat to additional 50 percent of voters for their decision in November. Meanwhile, a recent Fox News poll asked voters who they would prefer to see on the Republican ticket if given a choice. Of the entire sample population, 30 percent preferred Condoleezza Rice, 12 percent preferred Marco Rubio, 8 percent preferred Chris Christie, and 6 percent preferred Paul Ryan (24 percent didn’t know). When the findings were narrowed to which veep candidate Republican voters would like to see, 30 percent of Republicans supported Rice as top choice, while Marco Rubio was the second most popular at 19 percent (16 percent said they didn't know). Yet, Reuters reported last week that Mitt Romney’s likely final three top choices are Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and Ohio Senator Rob Portman. According to the Fox News poll, only 5 percent of Republicans prefer Jindal, 2 percent Pawlenty and 3 percent Portman.

Friday Roundup: The Bain Bane

Obama Vs Romney.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

The Bain Bane. Romney’s tenure at Bain continued to raise questions this week. While the Obama campaign and Democrats questioned whether he really left Bain in February 1999, Romney insisted that he underwent a “transition period” and ended his day-to-day management role when he took over the Olympics. Yet, SEC filings show that Romney continued to take a salary “of at least $100,000” and campaign advisor Ed Gillespie didn’t help matters when he told CNN that Romney “retroactively retired.” And Olympic documents described Romney as “the founder and CEO,” present tense. At stake in this partisan battle is whether the Obama campaign can hold Romney responsible for Bain investments in companies that laid off workers, declared bankruptcy or specialized in outsourcing. While Romney has demanded an end to the Bain attacks to end and called for an apology, Obama said “we won’t be apologizing” because voters “want to know what is exactly his business experience.”

Show Me Yours…The tax return debate has prominent Republicans calling on the candidate to release the returns and has also created divisions in the Romney camp over whether the candidate should cede to demands. According to a new USA Today/Gallup Poll, the majority of Americans, including almost a third of Republicans, say Romney should release more of his tax returns.

Mo’ Money. According to the aforementioned Gallup Poll, Mormons widely support Romney, but their support also runs deep. Records show that roughly two dozen members of Mormon families provided nearly $8 million of the financing for Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC. According to the WaPo, current and former employees, friends and associates of Romney from his business career have donated at least $5 million to back the candidate, including funds given to the Republican Party and the independent super PAC supporting him. Obama raised roughly $4 million in the Lone Star state earlier this week, breaking his previous single-day Texas record.

Enter RTT’s VEEPstakes Contest!

While modern presidential candidates have traditionally announced their vice presidential picks at the Party conventions, rumors abound that Mitt Romney’s announcement is imminent. Here at the Miller Center, we’ve decided to join the anticipation and indulge your political junkie pleasures with a VEEPstakes contest on the blog. Here are the rules.

Enter the following information in the "Comments" to this post by 5 pm on Thursday, July 19:

  1. Your prediction of who Mitt Romney will select as his vice presidential running mate. And, although it doesn’t matter for the prediction itself, tell us why you think Romney chose this person.
  2. To break any ties, tell us when you think Romney will make the announcement (e.g. during the Olympics, when he returns from Israel, at the Republican Party Convention, etc.).

Winner(s) will receive a coveted Miller Center T-shirt and be featured in a Friday Roundup with the nominal title of RTT “Political Junkie of the Week” (if they so desire).

Solving the Rancor of Executive Privilege Disputes

Miller Center Executive Privilege Report Cover

Yesterday, Mitt Romney assailed President Obama for a lack of transparency in invoking executive privilege to withhold documents related to the botched gun-walking Operation “Fast and Furious” to the House Government and Oversight Committee. In the Romney campaign’s released statement, headlined “Transparent Hypocrisy: Obama’s Fast and Furious Broken Promises,’’ Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said: “President Obama’s pledge to be transparent has turned out to be just another broken promise.” Romney is following Republicans in Congress who already have seized upon the issue for partisan and political gain. Last month, in a vote of 255 to 67, with 108 Democrats abstaining, the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. in contempt of Congress, a move that Holder described as a proxy attack against President Obama.

The attack is also founded on President Obama’s criticisms of President George W. Bush in 2007 for invoking executive privilege over the firing of nine United States Attorneys and the Valerie Plame leak. In an interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Obama said, “There’s been a tendency on the part of this administration to try to hide behind executive privilege every time there's something a little shaky that's taking place.” Obama was also critical of the Bush administration’s practices during the 2008 campaign. Of course, the Obama administration has defended invoking the doctrine over “Fast and Furious,” noting that it was the first time the president has done so, while the Bush administration invoked it six times and the Clinton administration invoked it fourteen. What is perhaps more interesting than President Obama invoking the doctrine to withhold the documents, however, is that while he had promised more government transparency in 2008, he has not departed from all of the Bush administration’s executive privilege practices.

While Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency marks the modern rise of the use of executive privilege (Eisenhower invoked the doctrine more than 40 times), George Washington set a precedent for future administrations. After a disastrous military expedition against Native Americans in 1791, Congress convened an investigation and requested President Washington turn over documents related to the expedition. The President convened the Cabinet and Thomas Jefferson recorded that they all determined “that the Executive ought to communicate such papers as the public good would permit & ought to refuse those the disclosure of which would injure the public” (Paul Ford, ed., 1892. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Putnam. pp. 189–190). President Washington similarly withheld documents in two further instances: after Congress made a request for diplomatic correspondence between the United States and France in 1794 and after the House of Representatives requested documents related to the Jay Treaty in 1796. Presidents since the founding have claimed they have a right to withhold documents from Congress and the judiciary.

So why all the controversy? Executive privilege, is after all, a presidential power derived under Article II of the Constitution that is legitimate when it relates to certain national security needs, when it is in the public interest and when ongoing investigations require secrecy. A new Miller Center report entitled Executive Privilege: Mapping an Extraordinary Power highlights the rancorous nature of executive privilege conflicts:

Although the current approach to executive privilege allows most disputes to be settled through negotiation, these settlements may come with significant partisan bickering. Members of Congress and the executive are often more interested in scoring political points than in protecting the prerogatives of their respective branches of government. They see themselves as partisans first and institutionalists second. As a result, Congress tends to investigate the executive branch more when it is controlled by the opposing party and less when the same party controls both branches.

Bipartisan Meeting of Governors Faces Partisanship and Presidential Politics

President Barack Obama answers questions from the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room of the White House.

President Barack Obama answers questions from the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 22, 2010. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza. PD.

Over the weekend, the annual meeting of the National Governor’s Association was held in Virginia and the expansion of federal programs was just as controversial this year as it has been in previous years.

First, some history. The National Governor’s Association was established in 1908 after President Theodore Roosevelt called a Conference of Governors to discuss conservation issues. The meeting included the nine Supreme Court Justices, biologists, ornithologists and advocates of forestry science in an unprecedented Blue Ribbon Commission on natural resource management. Roosevelt said that the purpose of the conference was so “this Nation as a whole should earnestly desire and strive to leave to the next generation the National honor unstained and the National resources unexhausted.” In the opening session of the Conference of Governors on May 13, 1908, President Roosevelt warned:

We have become great in a material sense because of the lavish use of our resources, and we have just reason to be proud of our growth. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils shall have been still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers…One distinguishing characteristic of really civilized men is foresight. We have to as a nation exercise foresight for this nation in the future; and if we do not exercise that foresight, dark will be the future.

The Conference of Governors was the result of the President’s belief that increased interstate cooperation for conservation was necessary; states and the federal government had to work together in order to conserve the nation’s natural resources. However, many governors and some of Roosevelt’s critics thought the president cared more about the natural environment than the Constitution, limited government or private property, and the president’s agenda was just another means for expanding federal regulatory power. Yet the conference proved beneficial beyond just the issue of conservation. Following the conference, governors decided to form an association through which they could come together to discuss their mutual concerns and act collectively. The annual meetings of governors have thus often been used as a forum to introduce policy ideas at the state level and to debate issues of national importance. For example, in 1930, then-governor of New York Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first prominent political leader to advocate unemployment insurance at the Conference of Governors in Salt Lake City.

One of the key sources of national debate and controversy at the 2012 annual meeting of the National Governor’s Association centered upon Medicaid and Healthcare exchanges.

Should the Candidates be More Like Ike?

Miller Center Transportation Report Cover

On July 12, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed a highway modernization program, with costs to be shared by federal and state governments. Modernizing the nation’s highways was a priority for Eisenhower to the delight of the road building community, which had been disappointed by President Harry Truman. In a pre-election statement to the Hearst Newspapers, candidate Eisenhower justified expanding federal government power with joint planning between state and local governments to modernize the road system:

The obsolescence of the nation's highways presents an appalling problem of waste, danger and death. Next to the manufacture of the most modern implements of war as a guarantee of peace through strength, a network of modern roads is as necessary to defense as it is to our national economy and personal safety.

We have fallen far behind in this task-until today there is hardly a city of any size without almost hopeless congestion within its boundaries and stalled traffic blocking roads leading beyond these boundaries. A solution can and will be found through the joint planning of the Federal, state and local governments.

Beginning with his State of the Union address on January 7, 1954, President Eisenhower and his administration began pitching road modernization to the public, Congress and state leaders, arguing it was in the “vital interests of every citizen” to have “a safe and adequate highway system.” Vice President Richard Nixon told the Governor’s Conference on July 12, 1954 that the goal of President Eisenhower’s “grand plan” was “a properly articulated system that solves the problems of speedy, safe, transcontinental traffic: intercity communication, access highways and farm-to-market movement, metropolitan area congestion, bottlenecks and parking.”

Although President Eisenhower signed the 1954 Federal Aid Highway Act in the days following Nixon’s speech, both Congress and state leaders resisted the bill because of costs and Eisenhower’s insistence that it be budget-neutral. But, the president pressed his case to Congress and eventually struck a deal with governors, creating a national gasoline tax to fund the interstate system. On June 29, 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which authorized the building of the interstate highway system, the largest public works project in the nations history, providing $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles of roads over a period of 20 years.

The nation faces a very similar challenge today in its declining transportation infrastructure. This Spring, the Miller Center released a report, titled “Are We There Yet? Selling America on Transportation” that calls attention to the nation’s transportation infrastructure challenges. The report puts the situation frankly:

Two imperatives have collided: on the one hand the imperative to invest in a transportation system that will continue to grow our nation’s economy, create jobs, and enhance U.S. competitiveness; on the other hand, the imperative to come to grips with the nation’s short- and long-term fiscal problems, including especially the federal treasury’s unsustainable and still growing level of debt. In short, it’s not that our political leaders don’t agree that transportation is important or that infrastructure investments are needed; rather they can’t agree on whether or how to fund those investments given the current budget situation.

Beware Fundraising Graphs

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

On Monday, Aaron Blake at The Fix presented what they called “the second most important chart of the 2012 election.” The chart graphed fundraising by the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from January to June of this year. Blake asserted that the chart “paints another potentially grim picture for President Obama, who was outraised by $35 million in June.” The chart also didn’t include any money raised by the super PACs, where Romney has the clear advantage. While there is no doubt that Romney has the clear fundraising advantage in this election, the implicit argument of Blake’s chart – that Obama will be disadvantaged electorally because of lower fundraising levels – is questionable. For example, in a paper that tried to isolate the effect of spending in campaigns, Economist Steve Levitt found:

When a candidate doubled their spending, holding everything else constant, they only got an extra one percent of the popular vote. It’s the same if you cut your spending in half, you only lose one percent of the popular vote. So we’re talking about really large swings in campaign spending with almost trivial changes in the vote.

Fundraising might (and that’s a big MIGHT) matter for the candidates’ ability to air ads in key states, but the effect of ads on the outcome is still questionable. As John Sides noted yesterday:

Campaign ads can have an effect, even in presidential races.  However, three caveats are important here, which speak to how one should follow the ads.  First, the effect of ads seems to emerge when one side is outspending the other by a significant margin.  How much of a margin is hard to say; let’s take 2-1 as a rough estimate, which corresponds to the apparently consequential imbalance in Bush and Gore ads in battleground states right before the 2000 election.  I’m not sure either Romney or Obama will muster that kind of advantage, even with the independent spending taken into account.  TBD.

Second, the effect of ads seems to dissipate quickly, even within a week (see point #3).  So you may not need to think about the effects of ads for another 3+ months.   In fact, let’s shout that: FOR ANOTHER 3+ MONTHS.  This notion that you have to advertise early to “define” the candidate or the opposition is folklore.  Maybe there is some truth to that, but the truly rigorous studies have not identified such an effect, but have identified rapid decay.

Third, whether any effect of ads actually affects the outcome is a real question.  It may be that the net effect of ads only slightly widens the winner’s margin of victory, without actually making the difference between winning and losing.

As I have argued previously on RTT, one of the keys to a successful campaign is the candidates’ ability to assemble and mobilize a winning coalition of interest groups and voters. The goal of fundraising should be to support these efforts, and candidate success will depend more upon organizing than fundraising alone. I would assert that the Obama campaign has so far been unable to repeat its successful online and on-the-ground grassroots organization of the 2008 campaign, at least in part because of the embrace by President Obama and his campaign of a more partisan approach since the 2010 election. And this may matter more than being out-fundraised by Romney. Second, political science studies have shown that while campaigns help voters learn about the economy or the party positions, campaigns matter only under certain conditions. For example, Kevin Arceneaux (gated article) has argued that some voters learn more from campaigns than others. Arceneauz shows that campaigns matter more for voters with low political sophistication and who receive information from the parties. Furthermore, voters draw more on their long-standing political identities, including party identification, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and religion. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as repeated political science studies have demonstrated, how voters feel about the state of the economy is likely to be the greatest predictor of who wins the White House come November because it underlies voter evaluations of the candidates.

Friday Roundup

Obama Vs Romney.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

It’s the economy, stupid. According to the monthly Labor Department report, the economy added 80,000 jobs in June, but unemployment remained at 8.2 percent. Mitt Romney seized upon the new report to attack President Barack Obama’s economic record. Nate Silver added an economic index to his election forecast model. He noted:

The historical evidence is robust enough to say that economic performance almost certainly matters at least somewhat, and that poorer economic performance tends to hurt the incumbent party’s presidential candidate. Likewise, it seems clear that the trend in performance matters more than the absolute level.

Healthcare. Mitt Romney said Wednesday that the individual mandate is “a tax,” contradicting a statement made by his senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom on Monday in which he said the former Massachusetts governor rejected the court’s characterization and believed that the individual mandate was a penalty. Seven states with Republican governors have given a flat ‘no’ to the Medicaid expansion since the Supreme Court ruling and another eight are leaning towards rejection, striking a blow to President Obama’s promise of expanded coverage, according to The Hill. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds American attitudes are split down the middle on the court ruling, with 43 percent holding favorable impressions of the ruling, and 42 percent holding unfavorable ones. The poll also finds a partisan split in attitudes with 80 percent of Democrats holding favorable views of President Obama’s plans for health care. Meanwhile 62 percent of Republicans have positive views of Mitt Romney’s ideas. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll also finds the public split at 41 percent favorable, 41 percent unfavorable, and 18 percent undecided. It also demonstrates a partisan divide.

Potpourri. A Wall Street Journal editorial outlining Romney’s hesitance to detail his policies from healthcare to immigration and other policies with any specificity is letting down Republicans. According to the WSJ:

All of these attacks were predictable, in particular because they go to the heart of Mr. Romney’s main campaign theme — that he can create jobs as President because he is a successful businessman and manager. But candidates who live by biography typically lose by it. See President John Kerry.

The biography that voters care about is their own, and they want to know how a candidate is going to improve their future. That means offering a larger economic narrative and vision than Mr. Romney has so far provided. It means pointing out the differences with specificity on higher taxes, government-run health care, punitive regulation, and the waste of politically-driven government spending.

Meanwhile Ann Romney told CBS News she worries that President Obama's entire campaign strategy is "kill Romney."

What would a second term for President Obama look like? One of the most important policy issues he could address is climate change. He might also champion immigration reform and address a more robust aid agenda for developing countries. According to Ryan Lizza:

If Obama aims to leave a legislative mark in his second term, he’ll need two things: a sense of humility, and a revitalized faction of Republican lawmakers willing to make deals with the President. Given the polarized environment and the likelihood of a closely divided Congress, it seems more implausible to suppose that Obama would turn radical in his second term than that he would cool to his Democratic base.

Labor Relations and Partisan Division

Francis Perkins looks on as Franklin Roosevelt signs the National Labor Relations Act.

Francis Perkins looks on as Franklin Roosevelt signs the National Labor Relations Act.

On this day in 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the pro-labor National Labor Relations Act, also called the Wagner Act or NLRA, into law, which established the National Labor Relations Board and gave the unions the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. At the time, AFL leader William Green and future CIO president John L. Lewis called the law labor’s “Magna Carta.” One scholar, Karl Klare, heralded the Wagner Act as “the most radical piece of legislation ever enacted by the United States Congress.” The bill led to an era, albeit a rather short-lived one, of union and federal regulatory power, giving workers the legal right to strike, the right to be protected from discrimination on the basis of their union activity, and the right to enter into collective bargaining agreements, all regulated and enforced by the National Labor Relations Board. Scholars have noted the dramatic increase in the number of labor unions after the Wagner Act’s passage as one measure of the bill’s success.

However, the law was a short-lived victory for unions. As Dorian T. Warren (gated article) has argued, since its inception the National Labor Relations Board has lacked adequate power to monitor and enforce labor law effectively because of a comparatively weak federal administrative apparatus and its regulatory capture by business groups. Especially following the passage of the pro-business 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, unions were subsequently retrenched by employers. Although President Harry Truman vetoed Taft-Hartley, Congress passed the bill over the president’s veto. Truman explained his position to the American public:

I vetoed this bill because I am convinced it is a bad bill. It is bad for labor, bad for management, and bad for the country.

It is unfair to the working people of this country. It clearly abuses the right, which millions of our citizens now enjoy, to join together and bargain with their employers for fair wages and fair working conditions.

The bill is deliberately designed to weaken labor unions. When the sponsors of the bill claim that by weakening unions, they are giving rights back to individual workingmen, they ignore the basic reason why unions are important in our democracy. Unions exist so that laboring men can bargain with their employers on a basis of equality. Because of unions, the living standards of our working people have increased steadily until they are today the highest in the world.
A bill which would weaken unions would undermine our national policy of collective bargaining. The Taft-Hartley bill would do just that. It would take us back in the direction of the old evils of individual bargaining. It would take the bargaining power away from the workers and give more power to management.

Roberts Rules and Obama Cares

President Barack Obama with Chief Justice John Roberts.

President Barack Obama with Chief Justice John Roberts, January 15, 2009. Official Photo by Pete Souza.

As I approached the U.S. Supreme Court on my way to this term’s last Decision Day, I suddenly found myself literally caught between two extreme factions in the health-care debate.  One group, led by two belly dancers and a compatriot carrying a bed-sheet labeled “Single Payer,” shimmied toward two bearded anti-Obamacare protestors who shouted at the gyrating dancers, “Communists!” and “Single payer is socialism!”  Momentarily stuck between the zealots, I felt like Chief Justice Roberts, trying to find an exit strategy.

An hour later I sat in my prized seat inside the churchlike courtroom and marveled at the chief’s painstakingly crafted opinion, upholding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while attempting to extricate the high tribunal from a political quagmire.  Much has been made of this patently conservative jurist’s reaching a liberal outcome.  Is John Roberts the next David Souter, Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, or Earl Warren—his Supreme Court predecessors who disappointed their appointing presidents by swinging to the other side of the ideological spectrum?  Probably not.  One liberal decision—albeit in a landmark case—does not a judicial career make.  In fact, on the larger issues at stake in the ACA litigation (Congress’ commerce, “necessary and proper,” and spending powers), the chief reached conservative conclusions.  It remains to be seen whether his limits on legislative prerogatives are mere “blips,” as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her stinging dissent predicted, or lasting obstacles to future liberal policy initiatives.

More important, Roberts’ opinion, partially joined by the Court’s liberal quartet (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan), reflects his historic view of the chief justice’s role.  One of his first acts after confirmation was to send staff members to Chief Justice John Marshall’s Richmond, Virginia home to retrieve the fourth chief justice’s judicial robe on display there.  Roberts wanted to model his robe after the “great chief justice,” as Marshall is called.  The act speaks volumes.  Roberts’ mentor, William Rehnquist, who as an associate justice was dubbed the “Lone Ranger” for his many solo dissents, modeled his chief justice robe after a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta character (complete with four gold metallic stripes on the sleeves!).  Assuming the Court’s center chair in the wake of the polarizing Bush v. Gore decision, Roberts explained to George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen that he hoped to increase collegiality and unanimity among the nine justices.  Unanimity produces stability in the law, he reasoned, which, in turn, leads to more public respect for the tribunal.

With the Court’s most recent approval ratings dropping to 44%, and three-quarters of Americans surveyed believing that the justices would follow their partisan inclinations in deciding the health-care case, Chief Justice Roberts faced a dilemma.  Siding with his conservative soul mates (Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito) would confirm the view that the Court is just another political institution.  Instead, he assumed the uncharacteristic position of swing voter, casting the deciding vote between four liberals and four conservatives.

Friday Roundup: the Supremes’ Moment in the Spotlight

Obama Vs Romney.

Obama Vs Romney. File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The High Court’s Week in the Spotlight. With scholars, experts, pundits and journalists waiting with bated breath, the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) yesterday. According to the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, indi­vidual mandate was upheld, but “must be construed as imposing a tax on those who do not have health insurance,” not as “a valid exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause.” It is important to note that in making the case for the bill, President Obama repeatedly said that the mandate was not a tax. Eric Patashnik, Associate dean of the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, explained:

Chief Justice Roberts found a middle path, granting the main conservative argument against the law (the federal government's regulatory powers are not unlimited) but also allowing implementation of the law to go forward.

But, as Patashnik and Jeffery Jenkins wrote earlier this year, “The main impact of the Court’s decision will be to shape the political ground on which the health reform struggle will continue.”

Responding to the ruling, Mitt Romney said:

This is now a time for the American People to make a choice. You can choose whether to have a larger and larger government making intrusions into your life... Or whether instead you want to return to a time where Americans have their own choice in health care.

He added, “What the Supreme Court did not do on its last day in session, I will do in my first day in office. I will act to repeal Obamacare.”

President Obama also delivered a response to the ruling and said: 

I knew the idea wasn't politically popular and resisted it when I ran for this office. … It should be pretty clear by now that I didn't do this because it was good politics. I did it because I believed it was good for the country. ... Now's the time to focus on the most important challenge of our time: putting people back to work.

Romney’s campaign said this morning that it raised $4.2 million online following the Supreme Court's decision. The Obama campaign also seized upon the ruling to raise funds, but the campaign would not reveal how much.

Both CNN and Fox News falsely reported the outcome of the SCOTUS Healthcare ruling on the first take.

Among other rulings, the Supreme Court also handed down its decision in Arizona vs. United States, the 2010 Arizona immigration law (S.B. 1070). With a 5-3 vote, the Court upheld the most hotly contested provision of the law – the so-called “show me your papers” provision – but blocked other provisions on the grounds that they preempted the federal government’s role in setting immigration policy. In a separate ruling issued on Monday, the Court solidified its Citizens United ruling by striking down a Progressive Era ban on corporate giving in the state of Montana. In its 5-4 decision, the Court said there is “no serious doubt” that the Citizens United ruling applies to the state, disappointing those who viewed the Montana case as a means to challenge the controversial ruling on corporate campaign spending.

Primary Season Concludes

Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney takes the stage with his wife Ann

cription March 6, 2012 - Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney takes the stage with his wife Ann to give his victory speech at his headquarters at the Westin at Copley Plaza on Super Tuesday. (Ryan Hutton/Boston University News Service)

Mitt Romney has won the Utah Republican presidential primary, the last contest of the primary season, gaining all 40 of the state’s delegates. Nebraska will hold a state convention in July, but Utah held the last presidential primary. Representative Ron Paul is the only other Republican presidential candidate in the running. However, he stopped campaigning to focus on winning delegates at state conventions.

In other notable races, the political winds changed directions bringing good news for most incumbents in Tuesday’s primaries. Despite predictions of his ouster, Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY), who has served in the House 42 years, defeated four challengers in Tuesday’s primary after facing ethics allegations and while running in a largely redrawn district. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has served in the senate for six terms, also won against a Tea Party-backed opponent. In Colorado, Republican congressman Doug Lamborn defeated Robert Blaha, a wealthy, self-funded primary challenger.

In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley tested her political capital by endorsing local councilman Tom Rice, who won in the 7th congressional district race against former lieutenant governor Andre Bauer, a Haley foe.

Incumbent Representative John Sullivan (R-Oklahoma) lost to tea party-backed candidate Jim Bridenstine. Meanwhile the retirement of Representative Dan Boren, a moderate Democrat, has opened an opportunity for Republicans to pick up a seat in Oklahoma. Two of six Republicans who ran for the nomination – Markwayne Mullin and George Faught – will now compete in a run-off.

SCOTUS Immigration Ruling and the Hispanic Vote

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer meeting with President Barack Obama in June 2010 in the wake of SB 1070.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer meeting with President Barack Obama in June 2010 in the wake of SB 1070, to discuss immigration and border security issues. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Arizona vs. United States, the 2010 Arizona immigration law (S.B. 1070). With a 5-3 vote, the Court upheld the most hotly contested provision of the law – the so-called “show me your papers” provision – but blocked other provisions on the grounds that they preempted the federal government’s role in setting immigration policy. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said:

“Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”

The majority emphasized two points regarding the federal-state dividing line over immigration law authority. First, it is “fundamental” that foreign countries be able to communicate with a “single sovereign,” the federal government, about immigration issues. Second, the federal government should have “broad discretion” in deciding whether and how to enforce immigration laws.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito agreed with the majority that “show me your papers” provision was not preempted by federal law and could go into effect. However, they dissented from the majority on other provisions. In his dissent from the majority opinion, Justice Scalia argued that the states should have the right to make immigration policy if the federal government is not enforcing its own policies.

The presidential candidates’ responses to the ruling made clear a partisan divide over how authority to set immigration law should be divided between the federal, state and local governments. President Obama said that the ruling demonstrates that Congress must enact comprehensive immigration reform. According to President Obama, “A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system – it’s part of the problem.” President Obama also agreed with the Court that individuals cannot be detained solely to verify their immigration status:

“No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like.”

The Obama administration also announced that it will not assist Arizona's efforts to arrest undocumented people unless those immigrants meet federal government criteria. Furthermore, it is rescinding agreements that allow some Arizona law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws.

In response to the ruling Mitt Romney said that America’s immigration laws have “become a muddle.” At a campaign fundraiser in Arizona that raised $2 million yesterday, Romney told donors:

“I would have preferred to see the Supreme Court give more latitude to states, not less. And the states, now under this decision, have less authority, less latitude, to enforce immigration law.”

Romney did not endorse the Arizona law during the primaries and has attempted to soften his position on immigration to appeal to Hispanic voters. But yesterday, he called the Arizona law “a model” and said that “the right course for America is to drop these lawsuits against Arizona and other states that are trying to do the job Barack Obama isn't doing.”

So what impact will the Court’s ruling have in the presidential election?

Grassroot Organizing and the Lamentable Loss of Voter Turnout

Organizing for America (OFA) office in Broward County, Florida.

Organizing for America (OFA) office in Broward County, Florida with Asia, Kelly, Aaron, Faith “The Artist”, Raven, Nicholas for Nova Debate Team, Tiandra Johnson, and Corey Shearer Sr.

Last week, Rhodes Cook argued on the Crystal Ball that although voters and pundits alike have criticized heightened partisanship and polarization, one of the positive benefits has been increased turnout, especially in presidential elections. Cook questioned whether turnout will be as high this year, citing as evidence low voter turnout in the primaries. Cook also argued that “Obama put together a winning coalition in 2008 built in large part on an unusually high turnout from youth and Hispanics, normally low turnout groups.” According to Cook it will be difficult for the president to reassemble that coalition as much of the enthusiasm for him as worn off. Citing the first elections of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, as well as Harry D. Truman’s fabled come-from-behind victory and Ronald Reagan’s first election, Cook concludes that voter turnout doesn’t need to be high in order to make the election an historic one. However, lower voter turnout will mean that one of the few positive benefits of intense partisanship and polarization will be removed.

What is missing from Cook’s excellent analysis of historic voter turnout is Obama’s approach to party leadership and the organizational innovation of his grassroots machine “Organizing for America” (OFA). As Sidney M. Milkis, Jesse Rhodes and Emily Charnock argued in a March 2012 Perspectives on Politics article (gated), Obama’s grassroot’s campaign was in part a response to partisan polarization. However, Obama’s organizational efforts blended partisan elements with a liberal measure of post-partisanship. According to Milkis, Rhodes and Charnock, “Instead of appealing to the party’s base, Obama and his advisors sought to ‘change the demographics of the campaign’ by activating non-voters and by attracting as many independents and disaffected Republicans as possible.”

However, after winning the presidency and the merger of Organizing for America with the Democratic Party organizational apparatus, both President Obama and OFA moved in a more partisan direction. This was particularly evident in the 2010 election when the party’s majority in Congress was at stake. The president repeatedly proclaimed that voters had a choice between “moving backward” with Republican policies and “moving forward” with Democratic ones. Meanwhile, OFA’s “Vote 2010” used explicitly partisan appeals in attempts to turnout the base.