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By Greg Stohr, Bloomberg News (TNS)

With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to issue blockbuster rulings on same-sex marriage and health care, Republicans have a blueprint for victory: They need to lose.

Republicans have played a leading role in asking the court to undercut Obamacare by barring tax subsidies for people who buy insurance in at least 34 states. GOP state officials are urging the court to uphold their gay-marriage bans.

Yet legal success on either front would throw the party — and its presidential candidates — into a political thicket. A victory on health care could strip insurance from more than 6 million people, including policyholders in the states set to cast the first votes for the Republican nomination: Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

And ruling against gay marriage would make the issue a focal point for the 2016 general election, leaving Republicans to argue against a right supported by six in 10 Americans.

Both rulings are due by the end of June as the court finishes its nine-month term with its traditional flurry of major opinions.

In both cases, Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts hold the votes that might save Republicans from what could be a political disaster. Kennedy’s track record suggests he will join the four Democratic appointees to back marriage rights, while Roberts cast the vote that saved Obamacare in a case three years ago.

A ruling against Obamacare would throw American health-care into a new period of turmoil. Unless the justices delayed the effective date of the decision — something the court hasn’t done since 1982 — it would almost quadruple the average premium for affected policyholders in a matter of months.

What’s more, the ruling might send the individual insurance markets in the affected states into what economists call a “death spiral”: The higher premiums would mean that only the sickest and most desperate buy insurance. That would cause premiums to rise even more.

That scenario would pressure Republicans on multiple levels. In the states, officials who until now have resisted Obamacare would face calls to set up exchanges so that residents could continue to collect the tax credits. In Washington, Republican lawmakers would suddenly have to shift from trying to dismantle Obamacare to managing the fallout.

“If the Supreme Court rules against it, they’re going to have to have an answer for the millions that now are relying on this insurance,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and ex-aide to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. “They’ll have to provide a credible alternative.”

Senate Republicans led by Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (who is up for re-election next year) are already proposing a bill that would extend the tax credits through the 2016 election. The measure, however, would also repeal the law’s individual and employer mandates, which require people to acquire insurance and businesses to offer it. Those provisions would almost certainly mean White House opposition, making the bill as it stands more a political statement than an avenue to fill the hole the high court ruling might open.

“I’m not sure it will be enough to say, ‘We’ve got an approach but the president will veto it,'” said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion specialist at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “Something will have to happen pretty quickly so those people are not without coverage.”

On gay marriage, the party’s longstanding opposition has left it at odds with public opinion. The latest Gallup poll shows record support for legalized same-sex marriage, with 60 percent favoring and 37 percent opposed. Same-sex couples can now wed in 36 states.
A Supreme Court ruling against gay marriage would set up a new round of state-by-state fights. Some of those battles would occur in court, as judges sort out the effects of earlier rulings legalizing marriage.

Other fights would take place at the ballot box. Marriage advocates could try to put the issue before voters in Ohio and Michigan, two presidential swing states where gay marriage is currently illegal.

Supporters might also look to Arizona and Colorado, states that now have gay marriage because of court rulings. A Supreme Court decision potentially would nullify those rulings, forcing supporters to turn to ballot initiatives.

The fracas would leave Republican candidates in a bind, forcing them to try to placate the social conservatives who are key to winning the party’s presidential nomination without alienating middle-of-the-road voters who support gay marriage and who are key to winning the general election.

“Having it continue to go through a domino effect isn’t necessarily helpful for Republican candidates who are trying to appeal a wider section of voters than just social conservatives,” Bonjean said.

A ruling legalizing gay marriage wouldn’t entirely take the issue off the political table. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is calling for a constitutional amendment to allow states to ban the practice. And many opponents would view the Supreme Court decision as an overreach and an infringement of religious rights, says Saul Anuzis, the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.

“I don’t think this is the final chapter at all,” Anuzis said. “I think it will focus the fight and again probably re-energize people because now they will have a very specific target.”

Even so, people on both sides of the issue say many Republicans would prefer seeing gay marriage fade as a political issue.

“They’d probably be better off losing the gay marriage issue, politically that is,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington. “It would remove the issue from the debate, and the GOP is now on the wrong side, politically, of the debate.”

(c)2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: GOP against Obamacare via Flickr

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.