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Did Republicans lose the health care battle but win the health care war?

at 07:06 AM ET, 06/29/2012

Thursday was a banner day for President Obama and congressional Democrats as the Supreme Court validated the signature accomplishment of his first term in office.


Protesters against President Barack Obama's 2010 healthcare overhaul react outside the Supreme Court in Washington June 28, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed
But, even as Democrats celebrated, Republicans insisted that their rivals — and members of the media — couldn’t see the forest through the trees.

Jonathan Collegio, communications director for American Crossroads, a leading conservative outside group, called the ruling a “millstone” around the neck of any Democrat running for federal office this fall.

“The Supreme Court’s decision forces Obamacare to be litigated in the 2012 elections, and in virtually every case where Obamacare has been litigated by voters in an election, the law and its supporters lose,” added Collegio.

“This ruling is the kiss of death for the Democrat majority in the U.S . Senate as health care just became a tax increase on the middle class in one of the worst economies Americans have ever faced,” added longtime Republican strategist Chris LaCivita.

Rhetoric aside, there were other signs of blowback to the ruling within Republican ranks on Thursday — most notably the fact that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney raised $2 million in the hours after the decision was announced.

And, Democrats running in swing — and Republican-leaning — states were very careful not to tout the ruling too loudly either.

“Today’s ruling doesn’t mean this responsible, constitutional law can’t be improved,” said Montana Sen. Jon Tester, who faces a serious challenge in his bid for a second term in November. Former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, who is seeking an open seat in North Dakota, was similarly restrained on the ruling, saying: “Today’s decision is a chance to finally put two years of political posturing and gridlock on pause, and do what’s right for North Dakota.”

There’s little question that the law — at least in data over the last two years — has consistently been viewed more unfavorably than favorably.

Here’s that political reality in chart form:

“I think this is such a disaster for Democrats,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director Rob Jesmer. “We can credibly say there is only one way to get rid of health care and that is legislatively.”

Not so fast, insist Democratic strategists who argue that Thursday’s ruling handed their party’s candidates a foolproof political response to Republican attacks.

“It’s the strongest possible validation for incumbents — a tremendous amount of political cover,” said Jim Jordan, a longtime operative and former executive director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Republicans in conservative states can debate with [Chief Justice] John Roberts all they want.”

While our initial readout in the aftermath of the Court’s decision was that this was a good thing for President Obama and, hence, a bad thing for Republicans, it’s a more intriguing question to debate whether downballot Democrats could pay the price for the Administration’s victory on the health care issue.

It’s also possible that what the political impact looks like today isn’t what it will look like in November. Remember back in October 2002 it was widely assumed that the “safe” political vote for Democrats with national ambitions was in support of the use of force resolution against Iraq. Six years later, it can be argued that that single vote cost Hillary Clinton the Democratic nomination for president. (Without that vote, does Barack Obama have a logical foothold to reconsider his past denials of interest in running for president?)

Things aren’t always what they first appear to be in politics. And sometimes they are exactly as they seem to be. That uncertainty is what makes it interesting.

FixBits:

* Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who has already given $10 million to a pro-Romney super PAC, is giving another $10 million to the Koch brothers’ anti-Obama efforts.

* Some speculate that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in the health-care ruling was originally a majority opinion.

* Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) blames editorial boards for the decision.

* South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) tells an ethics panel that a Republican blogger who filed a complaint against her is “a racist, sexist bigot.”

Must Reads:

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How a grad student scooped the FTC - Peter Maass, Wired

Health-care ruling motivates Romney supporters - Karen Tumulty and Nia-Malika Henderson, Washington Post

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