The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Obama’s healthcare law amounts to a massive political win for the incumbent, an independent validation of the single most prominent — and controversial — accomplishment of his first four years in office.
To be clear: It is unlikely that public opinion about the law will move much — even in the wake of this historic ruling. How people feel about the law is somewhere close to cemented in stone.
But, to dismiss the influence that the Court’s ruling can have on the presidential race is a major mistake.
* Obama goes big: One of the pillars of Obama’s campaign in 2008 was that he was someone who wanted to do big things and whose record in office proved he was an individual uniquely capable of bringing about that sort of historic change.
If the Court had struck down the individual mandate or the entirety of the law, it would have made it very difficult for Obama to make that “big” case to voters. He spent vast amounts of time and political capital to get this law passed and if the Court, in one fell swoop, had said it wasn’t constitutional, it would have amounted to a major rebuke for a president who had called health care the single biggest piece of domestic legislation since Social Security.
Now, Obama can use health care as a piece of a broader argument about his ability to tackle intractable problems and get things done for the American people. That’s a huge part of his aura as a politician and now health care will bolster rather than subtract from it.
* Defense to offense: For much of the past two years, Obama and Democrats have played defense on health care — losing the message war to Republicans on what the law will and won’t do. Now, Obama can use the Court decision as a jumping off point to take the offensive on all of the good things he believes were in the law that got glossed over in the political debate over it.
No, President Obama isn’t going to put healthcare at the center of his reelection campaign — that will be the economy — but this ruling does allow him to get out of the defensive crouch he has been in for many months.
* Winning matters: In politics and sports, winning isn’t everything — it’s the only thing. A bad cliche? Yup. True? Yup. Winning inspires confidence, it emboldens the winners. Need evidence? Look at how Republicans felt in the immediate aftermath of the Wisconsin recall in which Gov. Scott Walker (R) beat back the effort by national Democrats to oust him from office. Triumphant. Confident.
Democratic enthusiasm will shoot through the roof in the near term as they will regard the decision as snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Whether they can keep up that enthusiasm all the way through the (rest of) the summer doldrums and into the fall remains to be seen but it’s impossible to dispute that this will give the President and his party a jolt of energy.
All of the above is not to say that the Court’s decision is an unmitigated disaster for Republicans. They have already begun to paint it as evidence that the presidential election now matters even more — that if you think the Affordable Care Act is the wrong policy for America than the only way you can get rid of it is to vote for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
“Today’s ruling crystallizes all that’s at stake in November’s election,” Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a statement. “The only way to stop Barack Obama’s budget-busting health care takeover is by electing a new president.”
That message should resonate with the Republican base who hates — and that is not too strong a word — the law and wants it repealed at all costs. And, if the Republican base needed more incentive to show up and vote this November (they didn’t), they now have it — and then some.
Still, those are silver linings for Republicans in a generally cloudy political day for them. Meanwhile, the political sun shines brightly on President Obama — for today at least.
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