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Watching a repeal crusade end with a whimper

The far-right repeal crusaders hopefully enjoyed themselves during their heyday -- because those days are gone and they're not coming back.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) delivers remarks during a press conference, March 21, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) delivers remarks during a press conference, March 21, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
There are some competing counts as to exactly how many times congressional Republicans have voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety.  But whatever your preferred tally, those hoping for an even higher total are likely to be disappointed.

With the news this week that more than 600,000 Washington residents have acquired new health care plans through the state exchange, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said it's unlikely the Affordable Care Act will be repealed. "We need to look at reforming the exchanges," the Eastern Washington Republican said Thursday.... McMorris Rodgers ...  said the framework established by the law likely will persist and reforms should take place within its structure.

Given the larger context, this was no small concession  For the last few years, Congress has effectively been divided into two camps: those who want to keep the Affordable Care Act while making incremental changes to improve it vs. those who want to destroy "Obamacare" and replace it with a more conservative framework no one can identify or explain.
Or put another way, Democrats have said they want to fix the ACA; Republicans have said they want to kill the ACA.
At least, that was the basis for the debate. Now, however, we have McMorris Rodgers, the chair of the House Republican Conference, effectively endorsing the Democratic line; the Affordable Care Act won't be repealed and future changes will work within the existing system. Her comments coincide with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) conceding, "(To) repeal Obamacare ... isn't the answer."
A day later, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) issued a five-page memo to his members, outlining the legislative agenda in the coming months. The word "repeal" wasn't mentioned at all.
I hope the far-right repeal crusaders enjoyed themselves during their heyday because those days are gone and they're not coming back.
This isn't to say far-right voices are going to stop talking about repeal. On the contrary, the rhetoric will likely persist indefinitely -- it's too important to conservative fundraising efforts and base mobilization.
But in practical terms, when half the House Republican leadership concedes that the law simply will not be repealed, against a backdrop in which millions of Americans gain benefits they won't want to give up, even the most die-hard repeal dead-enders must realize that they're spinning their wheels.
As for the 2014 midterms, Sean Spicer, spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, recently promised that Obamacare "is still the number one, number two and number three issue going into this election." As Jon Chait noted, it's become increasingly difficult to take such rhetoric seriously.

To date, Republicans have made good on their vow to make the elections a referendum on the health-care law. It simply hasn't worked very well. The Party remains poised for a strong showing due to its reinforcing structural advantages: Senate races staged in overwhelmingly friendly terrain, a Republican-tilted House map, and an ingrained tendency of Democratic voters to skip midterm elections. Still, the GOP's odds of winning control of the Senate have fallen from 60 percent a month ago, per Nate Silver, to a pure toss-up per the New York Times model. (FiveThirtyEight has not updated its model, but would likely yield a similar conclusion.)  The single-minded focus on Obamacare may not be to blame, but it sure doesn't seem to be helping. The website has been fixed, enrollment is exceeding expectations, and the torrent of horrendous news coverage has ceased. Republicans have hoped the number of Obamacare victims would outnumber the beneficiaries, and some are still clinging to that hope. But the number of people who lost their coverage turns out to be much smaller than previously believed, as Jonathan Cohn points out.

This must be incredibly discouraging for Republicans. As recently as a few months ago, the pieces appeared to be falling into place: ACA enrollment was below projections; the media couldn't get enough of the "horror stories" about "Obamacare victims"; and Democrats appeared panicked.
It's a reminder that you can't win a November election in January.