David Frum comments on the political implications of the Supreme Court’s ACA ruling:
First, today’s Supreme Court decision will make it a lot harder to elect Mitt Romney. President Obama has just been handed a fearsome election weapon. 2012 is no longer exclusively a referendum on the president’s economic management. 2012 is now also a referendum on Mitt Romney’s healthcare plans. The president can now plausibly say that a vote for the Republicans is a vote to raise prescription drug costs on senior citizens and to empower insurance companies to deny coverage to children for pre-existing conditions. Those charges will hurt—and maybe hurt enough to sway the election.
Assuming that Romney’s pro-repeal position is a political liability, Romney’s predicament is essentially unchanged from last week. The ruling doesn’t make it any harder to elect Romney than it was yesterday. If supporting ACA repeal is a losing position now, it was also a losing position before. Had the Court struck down the law, it would have eliminated one of the only two reasons why non-ideological voters might support Romney. Had the Court ruled the mandate/tax/whatever unconstitutional, it would have eliminated the most unpopular part of the legislation without getting rid of the law, which would make Romney’s pro-repeal position even less compelling.
As it is, the most unpopular part of the law remains intact, which presumably makes a pro-repeal position less of a liability than it would be in a world where the mandate was struck down. Frum assumes that Romney will be harmed by his support for repeal, which underestimates how willing Romney will be to try to have things both ways in his positioning. If he is attacked for wanting to repeal the popular parts of the bill, Romney will respond by saying that all of the most popular parts of the law will be kept in place under his supposed replacement plan. As Romney has shown countless times already during this campaign, it doesn’t matter if what he’s saying is true.
Much of the rest of Frum’s argument actually makes a good case that replacement is the fantasy scenario. Repeal may not happen, but it is much more likely that there will be enough Republican votes in next year’s Senate to repeal the law than it is that they will reach a consensus on what to put in its place. It is quite possible that any time spent on repeal will be perceived by the public as time wasted. Far from being the obvious political winner that many partisans assume it to be, it could prove to be a major liability for the party in future elections. Just as Republicans have denounced passage of the bill as a distraction from economic issues, you can be sure that Democrats will use the same rhetoric to denounce attempts to repeal it, which could set Republicans up for a repudiation at the polls in 2014 similar to the one Democrats experienced in 2010.
It’s also possible that the health care bill isn’t as important in influencing how people will vote as most people seem to think. Romney’s repeal position has always been first and foremost an expression of his opposition to Obama and all his works. Just as most Republican primary voters couldn’t have cared less that Romney previously signed a state-level health care law with an individual mandate in it, voters inclined to vote Obama out are not going to be dissuaded by the details (or lack of details) of Romney’s plans for the health care bill. Likely Romney voters in favor of ACA repeal aren’t concerned with the specifics of health care policy, and most of them want the law repealed because it is Obama’s law and represents whatever it is they find most offensive about Obama’s agenda. Progressive supporters of ACA repeal (because they think it didn’t go far enough) aren’t going to vote for Romney in any case. Who are the otherwise likely Romney voters whose support will be lost because of Romney’s health care position? I don’t think these people exist, or if they do they are in such small numbers that they will not affect the outcome either way.