This week the Supreme Court will decide on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act of 2009 (aka Obamacare). This may be President Obama's primary legislative achievement.
Conventional wisdom says that if the SCOTUS strikes down the mandate, it will be a blow to Obama this November. Upon a closer look, conventional wisdom might not be useful indicator of how a repeal will help or hurt Obama's re-election.
Generally speaking, Republicans and Democrats are unified on this issue down party lines -- we saw this per the manner in which Obamacare was voted on in the House and Senate.
Progressives are also not charged up to do anything about Obamacare -- it is law. They are going to show up and support Obama whether or not the SCOTUS repeals the mandate or not. However, a repeal of Obamacare may be received as a partisan SCOTUS decision but not something they would hold against Obama, and they might even feel a sense of how Obama needs support at the polls.
For conservative voters, striking down Obamacare may result in less of a sense of urgency to elect a Republican, even one they would reluctantly vote for such as Mitt Romney. In other words, there will be less at stake in November in that the SCOTUS did what they feel a Republican president must. Consider that each Republican candidate for president has said they will repeal Obamacare. This is a driving issue for conservative voters. Obamacare gives Republicans a major reason (but not the only reason) to show up at the polls this November. If the SCOTUS strikes down the mandate, what is the GOP's rallying cry going to be? What single issue is as decisive as big government telling Americans what they must buy with their hard-earned money? What issue is so central to the future growth of the national debt (from the Republican point of view, that is)?
Other Hot Button Issues?
While a finding of un-constitutionality of Obamacare, Republicans are unlikely to find a new hot button issue that they can rally around with the same level of urgency. For example, the new issue won't be Keystone XL -- Obama has a strong record on more domestic oil production other than XL. It won't be terrorism -- OBL was found and killed on Obama's watch and there have been other successes. It won't be the debt -- according to Republicans Obamacare is a reason the debt is going to further increase in coming years. It won't be women's rights issues -- that is a hot button issue the GOP won't win too many female votes on. It won't be gay marriage -- that is a states' rights issue. And it won't be Iran -- if Israel strikes Iran, Obama will probably be forced to take a hawkish position and support Israel, a position that the GOP base will approve of, even if they don't approve of the manner in which he does it.
Anything can happen between now and November and no one has a crystal ball on this issue. Predicting the future may be a guessing game. But conventional wisdom is often a bad predictor of future outcomes.
In short, there may be no other issue that will bring out voters quite like Obamacare. A repeal of Obamacare by the SCOTUS may actually have the perverse effect of improving Obama's odds at re-election. A repeal of Obamacare won't hurt Obama this November with Dems, but a repeal of Obamacare may hurt the GOP candidates.
PAUL HEROUX is a public policy opinion columnist. He has appeared on TV and/or radio on three continents, and is a graduate of the Harvard School of Government and the London School of Economics and Political Science. Paul can be reached at PaulHeroux.MPA@gmail.com.