The Supreme Court’s long-awaited decision on the Affordable Care Act arrived yesterday — and sent media and political analysts into a frenzy. Now that the decision is done, the political question is whether and how the court’s action will affect partisan fortunes next November.
Not surprisingly, Republican analysts look back to 2010, when initial passage of the law enraged conservatives but also united them with sufficient force to retake the House majority. Just before the decision was delivered, Rick Wilson, a Florida-based GOP consultant, enthused: “If it’s upheld, strap in, because the passion, intensity and direction on the right that destroyed the Democrats in the 2010 elections will be back with a vengeance. I’d invest in any mutual fund based on tar, feathers, pitchforks and torches. You will instantly see the right and center-right voter intensity spike. You will see the Tea Party voters take to the streets. This would be grim news for the President, and worse news for Congressional Democrats. If it gets even close to the 2010 effects, Nancy Pelosi will be holding her 2013 caucus meetings in a booth at Denny’s and Barack Obama can hit the speaking circuit.”
Accordingly, the Republicans are promoting their “repeal and replace Obamacare” theme with a symbolic vote on July 11 in the House. But Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, sees the decision as favorable to Democrats. Ornstein explains, “It takes some of the wind out of the sails of the Republican argument that it was a constitutional overreach…I think that’s where the notion of ‘repeal and replace’ becomes an issue in the campaign—what have you got to replace it if it’s been constitutionally passed?”
Conservatives have already begun to fire away with claims that the Obama administration was trying to manipulate the public by hiding the fact that the mandate was a tax, and in effect, Obama is now breaking a promise by raising taxes on the middle class. As Sarah Palin tweeted: “Obama lied to the American people. Again. He said it wasn’t a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies.” Yet while Republicans seek new and different way to denounce the healthcare law, Democrats retort that a win is still a win. “No matter how many different ways you try to spin this issue,” says pollster and consultant Stan Greenberg, “this decision is very good for the President, Democrats, and the country.”
Some still speculate, however, that this ruling will turn key swing voters against Obama; a NY Times/CBS News poll found that only 22 percent of independent voters would like to see the entire law upheld. According to CNN commentator and Obama SuperPAC cconsultant Paul Begala, a former adviser to Bill Clinton, health care is unlikely to sway swing voters: “Independents are going to vote on the economy. Healthcare motivates both bases, but at the end of the day it is still [about] the economy.”
Robert Shrum, a consultant for previous Democratic presidential campaigns, also suggested that polls exaggerate voter rejection. “People think that the [healthcare] law does something that it doesn’t really do, because the Republicans have done a good job on their part [of framing the law in a negative light]…The more people that know about it, the less opposition to the law there will be.” Adds Greenberg, “You appreciate the ACA a lot more once you’ve pondered it being overturned by the Supreme Court. I think this will energize Democrats to educate the country.”
And Ornstein agrees: “We know that Americans by very large margins like every part [of ACA] except the mandate, and if the mandate is upheld, then Americans will reconsider it.”