Not necessarily. There are many who believe that the court's decision will do for Mitt Romney what Mitt Romney has so far been unable to do himself: energize the conservative base of the Republican Party behind the GOP nominee for president. Many who view “Obamacare” as the most important reason to replace Obama in November have been understandably lukewarm in their support for the former Massachusetts governor. This decision makes clear that the only way to repeal the Affordable Care Act is to replace Obama. Romney will need conservatives' enthusiasm if he is to win in key swing states like Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, and Virginia. Now, he has it.
Romney should continue to stress his intention to “repeal Obamacare on day one” in order to keep the troops motivated.
But, hold on a minute. Some Republicans are worried about going off-message. Their polling shows that this election works best for them if it is a referendum on the economy and Obama's stewardship thereof. Talking about “Obamacare” takes the Romney campaign away from discussing high unemployment and low GDP growth. Further, it offers Obama's surrogates yet another chance to point out the similarities between the ACA and the Massachusetts bill signed into law by Romney.
And there is a new risk for Romney to consider. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey, taken since the court's decision was announced, shows that 51% of self-described independent voters agree that it is time for ACA opponents to “stop their efforts to block the law and move on to other national problems.” These independents will have much to say about the outcome of the election. Does Romney risk alienating these voters – and losing in swing states – by continuing to harp on what Democrats will argue is now “settled law”?
So how should a Republican campaign operative advise his candidate? What messages should the Republican “super PACs” send? Can Republicans effectively tie “Obamacare” to the sluggish and unsatisfactory economic recovery?
Maybe. The uncertainty that, even after the court's decision, continues to hang in the air surrounding the ACA has not helped spur robust economic growth. Employers and governments have some big choices in front of them, and with those choices come both opportunity and risk. Romney's advisors know, however, that it really is still the economy (stupid). He'll do what he needs to do to keep the anti-“Obamacare” zealots active and motivated, while focusing on the independent voters who want to hear about his plans to fix the economy.
Al Jackson is head of Chandler Chicco Companies' Washington DC office.