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Maybe the Court Ruling on Health Care Hasn’t Had Any Effect on the Election

Scott Galupo sees Romney’s latest contortions on health care as evidence that the GOP cannot exploit the issue in the election:

Sympathizers may object that the Chief Justice John Roberts put Romney in an awkward position by wiping out the federalism argument in favor of Massachusetts’ mandate — which is true as far as it goes. Yet Santorum’s broader point was that it should not have mattered how the Supreme Court ruled on Obamacare; a Republican who hadn’t been previously tainted would have been able to command the healthcare issue independently of any help or hindrance from the judiciary.

None of this is to say that healthcare has become an advantage for Democrats. Rather, it is to suggest the issue has a become a wash — a non-advantage for Republicans. In a close election, it seems to me that could prove quite significant.

Santorum’s attack on Romney might sound persuasive at first, but then one realizes that the person making the argument was equally, if not more, “tainted” on matters related to the federal government and health care. It was Santorum, after all, who voted for Medicare Part D, which was one of the most fiscally irresponsible pieces of legislation in decades, and it was Santorum who then lamely defended that vote earlier this year as “taking one for the team.” What if Santorum had become the Republican nominee instead of Romney? He wouldn’t have the baggage of the Massachusetts health care bill to weigh him down. Would that matter? What would he say about the ACA that Romney isn’t saying, and how much more credibility would he have in saying it? Santorum favored the individual mandate at the beginning of his national career, so he would face some of the same questions Romney faces now.

As for campaigning against Obama on health care, does Romney’s record matter to pro-repeal voters? If a voter favors ACA repeal, he isn’t waiting for Romney or Santorum to sell him on the merits of repealing the legislation. The voter may want the legislation repealed mainly because it is associated with Obama, in which case any Republican nominee is just as good a messenger as any other. If the voter favors ACA repeal and happens to be a progressive, there’s not much chance that it matters who the Republican nominee is or what he did in the past.

In order for Santorum to be right about this, we have to believe that there is a significant number of persuadable, undecided voters whose voting decisions will be shaped to a large degree by the candidates’ positions on the ACA, and we are also required to believe that these voters are more likely to support a pro-repeal candidate because his record does not include support for a state-level individual mandate. This seems very unlikely. If health care is a “wash” as an issue, I suspect that it already was a “wash” long before the Court issued its ruling. If it was an advantage for the GOP before the ruling, it probably still is.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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