Romney Relieved at Health Care Ruling?

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Ben Smith makes a good point today about how yesterday’s health care ruling might affect 2012 presidential election landscape. Mitt Romney is leading the field, but is believed to be highly vulnerable in the primary season because he ushered in health care reform in Massachusetts while he was governor. That reform plan is extremely similar to the federal Affordable Care Act, a lightening rod for Republican criticism.

Recent news over the health reform law, however, has revolved around various court rulings on the constitutionality of the ACA’s requirement that all Americans have health insurance. The court battle has shifted the debate from one about policy to one about federalism, which bolsters Romney’s defense of the Massachusetts health reform law.

As Smith writes:

One of Romney’s weak arguments was that the Massachusetts plan was fundamentally different, as a matter of policy, because it had been enacted on a state rather than federal level. The argument got little traction and Romney, after an effort in the Spring of 2010 to explain his record, simply fell silent.

Romney’s argument is now much stronger. Because the main objection to ObamaCare, as its critics call it, is no longer a matter of policy nuance. Now critics primarily make the case that it’s an unconstitutional expansion of specifically federal power. And on that turf, the similar structure of the plans doesn’t matter. Romney enacted his at a state level, and states have — conservatives argue — more power to regulate the insurance industry, as they do with car insurance.

“I’m not going to apologize for the rights of states to craft plans on a bipartisan basis to help their people,” Romney said on Good Morning America this morning, and it’s no longer a bad answer.

Smith says the health care court battle “could rescue Romney.” I’m not sure I’d go that far. I don’t think Romney would be automatically a loser even if the health care debate stayed centered on policy. There are plenty of other aspects to Romney’s candidacy that make him a frontrunner, organization and money being two. Plus, although the GOP has done an admirable job of keeping opposition to health care reform a central national political issue, things could easily change by the time the GOP nominee is selected.