First and foremost, the ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is a major victory for President Obama. No political spin can or should take away from that fact. This was a thoroughly litigated case with some of the best legal minds weighing in on all angles in an attempt to invalidate this law. They failed and Obama deserves his victory lap.
He should, however, savor that victory lap because the President still has one more major hurdle to clear for validation of his law — the upcoming November elections. And today’s ruling may meaningfully impact his chances in unwelcome ways.
There is a genuine risk for President Obama that today’s victory could be an empty one. Fierce resistance to the original passage of Obamacare was one of the major drivers in the 2010 mid-term elections. In those elections Democrats at all levels were annihilated by the Republicans and the Tea Party. Antipathy towards Obamacare (and a weak economy) went far beyond headline victories like the Republican’s sixty-three seat gain in the House of Representatives and net seven-seat gain in the Senate.
Even greater gains were made at the state level across the country and most specifically among today’s battleground states.
In 2010, Republicans took eleven governorships from the Democrats, including 6 battleground states (Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Kansas, Oklahoma, Maine, Tennessee, and Wyoming) and one governorship in a battleground state previously held by an independent (in Florida).
In the state houses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and Michael Barone:
Republicans gained about 125 seats in state senates and 550 seats in state houses — 675 seats in total. That gives them more seats than they’ve won in any year since 1928.
As for flipping control of state houses:
Republicans snatched control of about 20 legislative houses from Democrats — and by margins that hardly any political insiders expected. Republicans needed five seats for a majority in the Pennsylvania House and won 15; they needed four seats in the Ohio House and got 13; they needed 13 in the Michigan House and got 20; they needed two in the Wisconsin Senate and four in the Wisconsin House, and gained four and 14; they needed five in the North Carolina Senate and nine in the North Carolina House and gained 11 and 15.
These were historic level gains across at least eight current battleground states: Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, and North Carolina. This is an enormous problem for the President. The 2012 election will be decided among these states without even considering Virginia (whose state legislature became overwhelmingly Republican in 2010), Nevada (who elected a Republican governor in 2010) or Colorado (who flipped its House delegation to a majority Republican).
After today’s ruling Mitt Romney has a clear line of differentiation with President Obama that is consistent with the GOP message in 2010:
- The economy is bad and getting worse (unemployment at 8.2% and rising, GDP below 2% and falling)
- President Obama is antagonistic to job creation in the private sector (rejecting the Keystone Pipeline is supported by only 22% of voters, his “war on coal”, EPA impeding natural gas drilling/fracking)
- The Supreme Court wrote unequivocally that Obamacare is a tax on all Americans, including the middle-class (an additional headwind on the economy and major campaign promise broken)
- Regardless of constitutionality, Obamcare remains unpopular (a majority of Americans disapprove of the law)
- Obama focuses on what he wants (Obamacare) and not what the country needs (jobs)
These were the major factors that led to historic gains for Republicans in 2010. These arguments remain true today and should all be articulated against Obama for the remainder of this election. The states mentioned above have already declared their support for such arguments and many others can be expected to join in if Mitt Romney can effectively state his case to the American people. ©