I know, I'm becoming a fan of the guy as many liberals are. The conservs worry that he may prove to be trhe next David Souter. As Richard Posner points out, the conservatives may well make this a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The more they razz him the more he'll start to wonder what kind of friends they really are. Posner says that he himself-a Reagan appointed conservative federal judge-has gotten less conservative over the last 10 years due to their attitude.
Time will tell whether or not Roberts becomes less conservative in the future-maybe proving to be a swing vote for the liberals in many future decisions-or this is just one episode that had big stakes but that he will remain a reliably conservative vote. There is a long legacy of this-Roe v Wade was actually the legacy of Harry Blackmun who was originally a Richard Nixon conservative appointee. For Blackmun this became his proudest legacy one that he jealously guarded-none were more relieved than him when the Court in 1992 for once and for all affirmed Roe v Wade.
However, Posner seems to suggest that their strategy makes the latter less rather than more likely.
I'd like to suggest that in a sense, Roberts' decision was a very conservative one-but in a stronger, more philosophical sense than is typical in the modern American sense.
It seems to me that a strong definition of conservatism is that your interest is in defusing, and turning down the temperature on social discord and confrontations. Your long term goal-and a true conservative should by definition take the long view-is social consensus wherever possible. You seek therefore to resolve social conflict rather than escalate them.
In this sense of course, modern American conservatism is actually appallingly unconservative. Gary Wills is interesting in this sense-try his Confessions of a Conservative to get a different view of conservatism.
American conservatism as it has developed from its modern architect, William Buckley, on the other hand has not been conservative but kind of radically reactionary as crystallized in his slogan that it's sometimes important to "stand athwart history and scream stop!"
This is not conservative as it forces social confrontation rather than limits it. The Right has been not "conservative but revolutionary" as Midge Decter once put it-'We are not conservatives, we are radicals.'
What I think Roberts thought about is the fact that if he court had struck down Obamacare the public would once again come away feeling that the SCOTUS is not as it likes to think itself, an august body that is somewhat above the immediate political skirmishes of the day but to the contrary just another partisan arm of the Republican party-just another GOP House, essentially.
My guess was it was the standing of the institution as much as anything that motivated his decision along perhaps more broadly with my working definition of conservatism above as seeking to defuse rather than fan the flames of social conflicts.