I ran into a prominent conservative member of Congress Friday night just before the huge storms moved through Washington. He was, he said, far angrier on the day after the Supreme Court Obamacare decision than he had been the moment he learned Chief Justice John Roberts had joined the Court’s liberal bloc to uphold the individual mandate at the heart of Obamacare. He didn’t resort to histrionics or profanity, but he was spitting mad — and his anger was growing, not diminishing.
A short time later, I saw another conservative lawmaker who said much the same thing. And yet another conservative leader who was in the same frame of mind.
At the same time, a backlash was forming in response to analyses by some formidable conservative writers — George Will, Charles Krauthammer, and others — who argued the Obamacare decision was actually a victory for conservatives because it placed a limit on expansive interpretations of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. In the Wall Street Journal, Berkeley law professor and former Bush Justice Department official John Yoo called such silver-lining analyses “hollow hope” and wrote that Obamacare is precisely the disaster for conservatives it appears to be:
The outer limit on the Commerce Clause in Sebelius does not put any other federal law in jeopardy and is undermined by its ruling on the tax power…Justice Roberts’s opinion provides a constitutional road map for architects of the next great expansion of the welfare state.
Early polling also shows signs of increasing intensity among conservatives and Republicans in the wake of Roberts’ decision. In the first survey since the ruling, Gallup found that Americans are split down the middle — 46 percent to 46 percent — on the question of whether they agree or disagree with the Court. But when asked what should happen next, significant differences emerged. Sixty-five percent of Democrats said they want to see the law kept in place and the government’s role in health care expanded. But 85 percent of Republicans said they want to see Obamacare repealed either in whole or in part. It’s possible that in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling, a long-running trend in opinion — that Republicans dislike Obamacare more than Democrats like it — will become more, not less, pronounced.
Finally, on Saturday afternoon, I sent out a couple of tweets in which I said: “My sense is that conservatives are getting angrier, not calmer, about Roberts opinion. Shocked/confused on Thursday. Angry of Friday. Really angry on Saturday. Unhappiness trending up, not down.” The tweets sparked an outpouring of impassioned responses. A sample:
“u r not alone. When i realized I’d bn stabbed in the back by s1 who was supposed 2b on my side…. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr”
“horrific case of judicial activism. hard to believe it happened in the manner it did, hope for massive chance of repudiation Nov”
“This conservative is absolutely livid. Part of my anger is directed at Republican Party, which gave us Roberts.”
“Takes a little while to digest A) what exactly happened and B) the full gravity.”
“I just hope this anger/frustration lasts until November! Need to back conservative candidates with time, money and effort.”
“This Obamatax is so depressing! Roberts was intimidated and did not do his job as he should have. He changed vote to please”
“Feeling powerless is the worst part.”
“R u surprised? O shoved O-care down our throats. Wait 3 yrs to get to SCOTUS then betrayed again.”
“Roberts went rogue.”
“You’re DAMN straight we’re angry! Probably the best thing to happen to Romney’s campaign.”
On that last note — it’s not clear how the Obamacare ruling will affect Mitt Romney’s presidential bid. But if conservative anger continues to grow, Romney will have a real opportunity to channel that intensity into support for his campaign — if he will make absolutely clear, in forceful language, that he believes the Supreme Court decision was wrong and that he will redouble his determination to repeal Obamacare.
UPDATE: On Sunday morning, Scott Rasmussen released a poll showing Republican regard for the Supreme Court plummeted, at least temporarily, in the wake of the Obamacare decision. “A week ago, Republicans were generally positive about the court,” Rasmussen wrote. “Forty-two percent of GOP voters gave the justices good or excellent marks, while 14% said poor. Now, the numbers are strongly negative — 20% say good or excellent and 43% say poor.”