For ACA ruling's winners, perhaps a Pyrrhic victory

Well, it looks like the long-awaited Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act — known to some as "Obamacare" — is perhaps the most overhyped phenomenon since the Y2K bug.

If Facebook chatter is any indication, the zeal and cocksureness of opponents who wanted it declared unconstitutional was largely offset by the exaggerated sense of doom expressed by supporters fearing its imminent demise.

Like the Casey Anthony trial and similar courtroom dramas, everyone seemed to have a clear opinion as to how the Supreme Court should rule, and some even thought they knew how it would rule.

I fell into this trap, too. Suffice it to say that, in the future, I think I will stick to handicapping elections instead of the actions of the nation's highest court.

In the end, what was touted as one of the most significant rulings to come from the court in recent memory was, largely, an anticlimactic validation of the status quo.

As the dust settles and people pore over the court's ruling, attention seems to be focusing on three apparent early "winners" emerging from the decision:

Winner No. 1: President Barack Obama. The court's action was some badly needed good news for a president beleaguered by tepid poll numbers, a sputtering economy, foreign policy challenges, and a scandal embroiling his attorney general. The USS Obama has sprung numerous leaks (pardon the pun) in recent months. The Supreme Court's ruling translates into one fewer crisis he and his team will have to deal with, at least from a public policy standpoint.

Winner No. 2: GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. In the hours following the ruling's release, Team Romney experienced a sizable bump in fundraising. This is indicative of the power and potential Obamacare has as a political issue, especially for a presidential candidate still trying to unify conservatives, libertarians and independent voters behind him.

Winner No. 3: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Appointed to the court by President George W. Bush, Chief Justice Roberts is correctly associated with the court's conservative wing. But his federalist leanings were definitely in evidence when he sided with the liberal bloc in making the argument that the law's individual mandate was consistent with Congress' power to levy taxes. Opponents of the decision may view Chief Justice Roberts as the second coming of Earl Warren, but I think he has positioned himself as a conservative jurist with a maverick streak. In the process, he elevated his stature by recasting himself as a vote never to be taken for granted again.

Still, if I were a member of Team Obama, I would not break out into the Snoopy dance just yet, as President Obama's policy win translates into political peril.

For Mr. Obama, the good news is that progressives whose enthusiasm had been waning now have a reason to support him, rather than simply because they oppose the other guy.

The bad news is that more people want Obamacare repealed than support it. Indeed, a recent New York Times poll found that 68 percent of voters wanted the court to strike down all or part of the law. Only 24 percent indicated that they wanted the entire law kept in place.

The Supreme Court's action restores Obamacare to a front-and-center place in the coming fall campaign. President Obama had already resigned himself to a campaign in which he must defend his record on jobs and the economy rather than simply touting his accomplishments. Now he and his team must wage a two-front war. In addition to defending himself on jobs, he must defend a health care law that is controversial at best and deeply unpopular at worst.

In the meantime, the court's action handed Mitt Romney a juicy red-meat issue to serve up to elements of the GOP electorate who still regard him with indifference or skepticism.

Politically, perhaps it would have been better for President Obama had the Supreme Court tossed out the law in its entirety. Pledging to fight for it again in the future would have been easier than having to defend it now.

In politics, it is possible to lose by winning. For President Obama and the Democrats, time may yet prove this to be one of those occasions.

Richard J. Cross III, a Baltimore resident, is a former press secretary and speechwriter to Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. His e-mail is

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