I find it hard to believe the spin that the Supreme Court upholding the health care law is somehow politically better for Republicans because it will “energize the base.” Nullifying Obama’s signature legislative achievement — which he rammed through while the economy was on the brink — would have been a powerful blow to his campaign (and don’t tell me that wouldn’t have galvanized the conservative base just as well).
But there is a silver lining here for Mitt Romney. If the Court had overturned the law in its entirety, Romney would have been under intense pressure to provide a detailed alternative — a challenge that, as David Frum points out, would be difficult enough for him after the election. This would be a far more perilous task during the election, which is why, so far, Romney has avoided it.
Any Republican candidate would find it tricky to come up with health care reform that appeased the diverse conservative base, was politically and financially viable, and still somewhat defensible against Democratic attacks. For Romney, these problems are compounded by the fact that he’s still paying penance for RomneyCare. Conservatives still view him warily and don’t trust him completely, especially on health care. If his proposal wasn’t 100 percent Tea Party-approved, it could mean disaster for his campaign. And if it did pass muster with all the far-flung corners of the conservative base? Then Democrats would finally have the “radical, right-wing” candidate they’ve been dying to run against. They would do to Romney what they’ve tried to do to Paul Ryan.
Yesterday’s decision means Romney gets to avoid all that — at least for now.