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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How High Court Ruling Could Backfire On GOP

This item by J.P. Green was originally published on March 23, 2012.
At WaPo’s ‘The Fix,’ Aaron Blake has an interesting read, “On health care, Supreme Court loss could be electoral win.” Blake believes the GOP’s glee about the upcoming Supreme Court ruling on the ACA could backfire — in an unexpected way. Blake explains:

…Some Republicans are worried that their big challenge to Obama’s health care law could backfire come election time.
Obama, of course, does not want to see his signature initiative overturned by the Supreme Court, which holds oral arguments on the bill next week and should render a decision by late June. And Republicans who have long railed against the bill would certainly be overjoyed to see the bill struck down.
But in an electoral milieu (yes, we just used that word) in which winning is often based more on voting against something rather than voting for it, losing at the Supreme Court may be the best thing that could happen to either side — and particularly Democrats.
“In a perverse way, Obama is helped if it is overturned, because then he can use it to rally his base,” said GOP pollster Glen Bolger. “If it is not overturned, then Republicans have a frying pan to bash over the Democrats’ head…”

That last point may be a bit of a stretch. It’s just as easy to imagine the GOP looking like whiners, grumbling about a pro-Republican court saying the law is sound. Plus it may be overstating the intensity of opposition to the mandate — many who don’t like it may be willing to at least give it a try, especially if the High Court says it’s OK.
In addition, don’t forget that polls indicate many who opposed the bill wanted a stronger role for government. Asked “What, if anything, do you think Congress should do with the health care law? Expand it. Leave it as is. Repeal it.” in a Pew Research poll conducted March 7-11, 53 percent said “expand it” (33 percent) or “leave it as it is” (20 percent), with just 38 percent supporting repeal.
Blake is on more solid ground, however, in arguing:

Republicans already hate the law, and if it gets struck down, there’s nothing to unite against. Obama may pay a price from his political capital for enacting a law that is eventually declared unconstitutional, but all of a sudden, the bogeyman disappears, and the GOP loses one of its top rallying cries.
The Democratic base, meanwhile, would be incensed at the Supreme Court, which has generally tilted 5-to-4 in favor of conservatives on contentious issues, and could redouble its efforts to reelect Obama so that he could fill whatever Supreme Court vacancies may arise.

Blake argues less persuasively that Republicans will still put energy into repealing the law, even after the Supreme Court’s ruling. Seems to me that this would be a huge loser for the GOP. The public was tired of the legislative debate a long time ago. I would agree with Blake’s assessment, however, that Dems may “have more to gain than Republicans do” in terms of the election — even with an adverse ruling.

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