Everybody is speculating about what the impact on President Obama will be if the Supreme Court strikes down the health-care law. Understandable, since the law originated with him. But it got me wondering: what about the impact on the Romney campaign? I haven’t read a word about this, I suppose because it’s generally assumed that any crushing defeat for Obama (the conventional wisdom on an adverse high-court ruling) is a moment of ecstasy and mirth for Mitt Romney. But it isn’t necessarily so. A ruling against the law, depending on its scope, has three possible effects. It takes a massive campaign weapon out of his hands. It forces him to answer a key question he has so far not had to answer. And finally, and it has the potential to put him on the defensive since he will have to align himself with an obviously political and unaccountable Court majority.
On the simplest level, Romney’s campaign thus far is built around two bullet points. First, the economy. He wants a campaign that is chiefly about anemic job creation. Now, his problem is that the economy may well be humming along nicely by the fall, with several straight months of 200,000-plus private-sector jobs gains and an unemployment rate down around (or maybe below) the 7.9 percent that it was the day Obama took office. These facts would make Romney’s sale more difficult, certainly. But it’s his main calling card, and it fits tongue-in-groove (or so he says) with his own résumé, so it’s where he wants to keep the conversation.
And that second bullet point, his biggest applause line with conservatives for months? Repeal Obamacare. If the court’s ruling against the ACA is fairly narrow, and throws out only the mandate, he’ll still be able to talk about getting the bill off the books. But if the court rules more broadly and strikes down the whole law, then Obamacare will already have been repealed. This may seem analogous to the problem of having too many presents to open on Christmas Day, but it actually presents two challenges to the Romney campaign.