Here’s something to keep an eye out for: Republican candidates in 2014 who, when discussing health care, sound an awful lot like the most ardent supporters of the Affordable Care Act.

The bluster continues today from GOP operatives who, as always, profess absolute certainty that Obamacare is nothing but a sure winner for them. Republicans are circulating a GOP poll showing that disapproval of Obamacare is running high among seniors, a key midterm voting bloc, insisting could play a big role this fall.

Perhaps that will prove true. But it’s also worth watching what Republican candidates and incumbents actually say and do on health care, for a clue to the nuances of how the politics of the issue are really playing.

The GOP Senate candidate in Michigan, Terri Lynn Land, is in a spot because she favors repeal but is well aware the Medicaid expansion is set to kick in there this spring for over 400,000 people. In a statement late yesterday, Land’s campaign pretty much abandoned repeal and embraced the expansion. But note the specific language: “Terri believes that healthcare should be affordable and accessible to all Americans and that we as a society have a moral obligation to help those who are not as fortunate.”

Good idea! That is awfully similar to what her Dem opponent, Rep. Gary Peters, says: “It’s a core belief of mine that everybody, no matter who you are, should have access to affordable health care.”

Meanwhile, the expected GOP Senate candidate in North Carolina, Thom Tillis, is getting skewered by the local press over his equivocating health care stance. He wants to replace Obamacare with something — but he can’t embrace the alternative offered by home state Senator Richard Burr without getting hit from the right. But when speaking generally about the issue, he says that of course he’s not “against having some sort of safety net for preexisting conditions.” He adds that Republicans “agree that there are serious health care issues among the American people that we need to solve.” But just not with Obamacare. Something else.

Mitch McConnell continues to call for total repeal, but he ran an ad touting his efforts to bring health care to sick people who desperately needed it, even as he won’t answer directly when asked about all the Kentuckians benefitting from the law. And House Republicans continue to say they may offer a replacement — an acknowledgment that they have to say that — even as their resolve to actually do so is slowly withering away. (To understand why this is so hard, read Jonathan Cohn.)

To be clear, it’s possible the 2014 fundamentals will be so bad that Republicans will regain the Senate while sticking to a “repeal and replace” message that remains vague on “replace.” But it’s also possible we’re now seeing the beginnings of how Obamacare fades as an issue. Republicans abandon repeal and start rhetorically accommodating parts of the law and/or its overall moral goals, without offering their own solutions, and it slowly bleeds into something of a wash (though it will probably remain a net negative for red state Dems), even as other things (the candidates, the economy, local concerns) take over as more important factors.


 * MORE BAD ECONOMIC NEWS: The Associated Press reports:

The U.S. economy grew at a 2.4 percent annual rate in the October-December quarter, significantly slower than first thought, reflecting slower consumer spending than initially estimated.

Let’s get right on those infrastructure repair/job creation ideas Republicans used to support before Obama was president. Meanwhile:

For all of 2013, the economy grew at a lackluster 1.9 percent, but analysts expect growth will rebound in 2014, possibly as high as 3 percent.

* ARIZONA GAY BILL ALARMED TOP REPUBLICANS: The New York Times has a good report detailing that top Republicans, including more pragmatic strategists and business-aligned constituencies, grew alarmed that the debate over the Arizona measure risked harming the party overall. But, crucially, the party still remains in many ways backward on gay rights:

The division was a window into a Republican Party that remains torn on gay rights issues, be it the Arizona measure, same-sex marriage or permitting gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Some of the party’s most committed voters continue to be intensely opposed to gay marriage, but their views are at odds with an increasing percentage of the American electorate, particularly younger and independent voters.

And so, the Arizona bill may have gone too far, but Republicans are still opposed to gay marriage and have not allowed a House vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

 * ANOTHER AFP VICTIM’S TALE COMES UNDER SCRUTINY: Glenn Kessler brings us yet another ad from Americans for Prosperity that features a victim of Obamacare, and it turns out this tale, too, is lacking in key context. Kessler points to another victim of the same illness, Erin Kotecki Vest, who is really happy with her new coverage under Obamacare, and drily notes:

For some reason, Kotecki Vest was not asked to appear in an AFP ad.

Which says it all about the cherry picking of anecdotes going on here.

 * THE LATEST IN THE FLORIDA SPECIAL ELECTION: David Jolly, the Republican candidate in the special election in Florida’s 13th district, is now attacking Dem Alex Sink over comments about immigration, alleging they are “disgusting.” But if you read Sink’s quote, you’ll see she was talking about the need for immigration reform to help local employers who are being put in the position of hiring undocumented workers.

The fact that Republicans are attacking Sink for wanting to address problems faced by local businesses, problems that have been created by the failure to fix immigration — which, broadly speaking, the business community wants Republicans to do — really says it all about where the GOP is on this issue.

* BOEHNER SEES COMMON GROUND ON IMMIGRATION: I’d missed this from John Boehner’s discussion with reporters about his meeting with Obama, but it’s important. The Hill explains:

The Speaker cited immigration as the area where he and Obama found the most agreement during their Tuesday meeting at the White House. But again, he declined to say whether the House would act on the principles the leadership laid out in January. The exchange underscored the difficulty GOP leaders have had navigating between electorally safe conservatives who want the party to take action this year and more vulnerable members who are leery of voting on contentious issues that have little chance of becoming law.

Precisely. The question is whether Republicans will act on their own principles.

* KRUGMAN OPPOSES FREE TRADE DEAL: Paul Krugman comes out against the Trans Pacific Partnership trade teal being negotiated by the administration, arguingtrade is already unencumbered between the countries in question and that it would increase corporate control over intellectual property such as drug patents:

The kind of property rights we’re talking about here can alternatively be described as legal monopolies. True, temporary monopolies are, in fact, how we reward new ideas; but arguing that we need even more monopolization is very dubious — and has nothing at all to do with classical arguments for free trade. Now, the corporations benefiting from enhanced control over intellectual property would often be American. But this doesn’t mean that the T.P.P. is in our national interest. What’s good for Big Pharma is by no means always good for America.

This will continue to be a major fault line among Democrats.

Cruz has made one completely unintended contribution to the fortunes of his party. It is likely that Republicans will look back on the 16-day government shutdown he forced in October as a liberating loss. The tea party coalition that rose to prominence in the 2010 election got precisely what it wanted and demanded. It promised wonderful things to follow. The outcome? Republicans of every ideological stripe have run in horror from every subsequent budget confrontation.

Of course, if Republicans really want to declare independence from Cruz-ism in the quest to improve the party’s long term prospects, they can start with immigration reform. Remember, Cruz wants the GOP to put off immigration, probably because he’ll then be able to demagogue it in the GOP presidential primary next year.

What else?