He continues, "Am I opposed to state-based exchanges? No." He thinks "it may be that they can be usable." "I'm all for repeal," he stipulates, "but it's there. What do you do with what's there? ... We've got to start talking about the reality of the situation."
Since the beginning of the debate over health care reform in 2009, the line from congressional Republicans has been as unyielding as it's been unconstructive: whatever President Obama suggests, they hate, even when the White House adopts GOP ideas. The party has come to be defined by their almost hysterical hatred, contempt, and disgust for the Affordable Care Act.
But just over the last couple of weeks, unexpected cracks have started to emerge. The Republican approach to "Obanacare" has started to evolve, at least a little.
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), a U.S. Senate hopeful, said recently, "A lot of conservatives say, 'Nah, let's just step back and let this thing fall to pieces on its own.' But I don't think that's always the responsible thing to do." As Zachary Roth explained last week, that was soon followed by Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), who conceded that "some Americans' lives have gotten better" as a result of the law, and to fail to acknowledge this is to "deny reality."
Yesterday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who ran on an anti-ACA platform in 2010, stopped by National Review's office and said he realizes his party's repeal crusade is a bust. "We've got to start talking about transitioning," the far-right Wisconsinite said.
At first blush, comments like these may seem unremarkable. But remember, Johnson has devoted much of his brief political career to condemning the Affordable Care Act, and he's now telling one of the more important news outlets in conservative media that he's comfortable with state-based exchange marketplaces -- which is not only one of the key elements of Obamacare, but is also one of the provisions conservative Republicans have been fighting against.
"We've got to start talking about the reality of the situation"? Even that's a new posture for the GOP, which has been adamant about denying reality as long as humanly possible.
Just over the last couple of weeks, the ground has shifted in a way Republicans are just now starting to appreciate. Condemning the website was entertaining, but now that it's vastly improved and the user experience has reached an acceptable level, this talking point no longer makes sense. Pushing for repeal had its heyday, but now that hundreds of thousands of Americans are actually gaining coverage they expect to keep, the GOP message has to adapt accordingly.
Heck, even as some conservative extremists encourage the uninsured to stay that way on purpose out of partisan spite, even prominent far-right voices like Amanda Carpenter are prepared to admit, "I don't want to be uninsured." As Jon Chait noted this morning, "When even as fanatical an ideological cadre as Ted Cruz's speechwriter blurts her desperation to join Obamacare, it suggests that conservatives have deeply miscalculated."
Republicans have no health care policy of their own, and the repeal crusade has effectively run its course. They can't run on a platform of taking Americans' insurance away from them, but they can't fully embrace the positions they've fought so aggressively to defend.
The GOP has put itself in this box. It'll be interesting to see Republicans try to get out of it.