Seven years ago this month, former President Barack Obama signed into law what would become his signature domestic achievement: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Ever since then, Republicans have run on the promise of repealing and replacing the law they see as a government takeover of health care, an industry that accounts for nearly one-sixth of the entire U.S. economy.
This week, Republicans in Congress introduced their long awaited replacement plan, the American Health Care Act. House Speaker Paul Ryan hailed the legislation as "what we as conservatives have been dreaming of for years." Other Republicans, though, see it as more of a nightmare.
“This is simply not a full repeal of Obamacare," Tim Philips, president of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, said. "It falls far short of the promises Republicans made to the American people in four consecutive federal elections."
And Philips is far from alone in his criticism of the bill.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called the bill "Obamacare Lite," adding that it "will never pass" in Congress. And Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said the legislation needs "major changes" and that Republicans should "start over" with writing a replacement plan, Fox News reported.
So why are establishment Republicans now advocating for the "lite" version of the law they railed against for seven years? What has changed?
Joseph Uscinski, political science professor at the University of Miami, said the answer is that American politics has changed.
"It's very difficult to get rid of an entitlement once it's there," Uscinski told TheBlaze Wednesday, referring to government subsidies and tax credits provided to millions of Americans under Obamacare. Uscinski mentioned several provisions in Obamacare that poll well individually.
For example, the majority of Americans agree that insurance companies should not be able to deny health insurance to individuals with pre-existing conditions. Most Americans also like the fact that children can stay on their parents' health insurance plan until they turn 26.
A recent Monmouth University poll found that a majority of Americans (51 percent) now say they would prefer to keep Obamacare but work to improve it. Seven percent said the law should be kept in its current form. Just 31 percent of those polled said the law should be repealed and replaced. Eight percent said it should be repealed and not be replaced with anything.
Given these statistics, Uscinski told TheBlaze, "Probably... Right now it would be" political suicide for Republicans to repeal Obamacare — or at least for the individual Republican congressmen and senators up for re-election in 2018.
"They're stuck between a rock and a hard place," Uscinski explained. "If they do too much, then it's going to be a serious talking point for Democrats in 2018. If they don't do enough, then the base is going to turn against them and many people in Congress would probably face primary challenges."
Republicans in districts and states that voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in November could be especially at risk, he said.
"It is a political issue because when you start showing TV commercials of Paul Ryan pushing Granny off a cliff again, or pushing uninsured children off a cliff perhaps this time, that becomes a tough thing to debate," Uscinski added, predicting that Democrats would likely run commercials portraying Republicans as not caring about the elderly.
Gary Nordlinger, professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management, agreed.
Nordlinger told TheBlaze that the least politically damaging option for Republicans is "what they're doing now" with the American Health Care Act.
"They're saying, 'OK, we're going to do something and it's not going to take much,' " Nordlinger said. "The riskier play is to totally repeal Obamacare and then have the news stories just dominate it by people with terminal cancer that have lost their health coverage."
As for the freedom caucus going along with the Trump-Ryan plan, Nordlinger said it's unlikely that they will vote for the legislation in its current form. If members of the freedom caucus do put up a fight, and the bill goes nowhere, Nordlinger said it's possible that establishment Republicans will then turn around and blame the freedom caucus for blocking Obamacare's repeal and replacement.
TheBlaze asked Nordlinger about the implications of blaming Trump's own base — the freedom caucus — for the GOP's potential failure to do what they have wanted for the better part of a decade. He said it's likely to have little to no impact, given the nature of loyalty that Trump supporters have shown in the past.
"They think he can do no wrong," Nordlinger said. "Those are the last people Trump's going to lose over this."
Trump supporter Brian Harrington of Oceanside, California, who spoke with TheBlaze exclusively after Trump's inauguration, said Tuesday that he doesn't care that the Trump-Ryan plan has been dubbed "Obamacare lite."
"A lot of Americans believe the government owes them health care because he [Obama] gave it to them," Harrington said. "Because of that I don't care what the freedom caucus says about it being 'Obamacare lite.' "
Harrington continued: "I'm done with the far left and the far right, America is moving on. We are moving forward and Trump is doing a great job leading the way. I think the framework so far for Trumpcare is a great start."