To fix, or not to fix, that is the question.
The subject is the federal health-care law known as Obamacare. And for Republicans, the answer seems, by necessity, to be "not to fix."
For evidence of why, take a look at the following Web video from Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), a conservative candidate running for U.S. Senate in Georgia. In it, Broun takes aim at one of his Republican opponents, Rep. Jack Kingston, claiming Kingston wants to "keep" Obamacare. "I don't want to fix Obamacare, I want to get rid of it," Broun says.
Kingston recently suggested in a radio interview that Republicans shouldn't let the health-care law fail without trying to fix it.
"A lot of conservatives say, 'Nah, just step back and let this thing fall to pieces on its own.' Well, I don’t think that’s always the responsible thing to do," Kingston told Z Politics. "I think we need to be looking for things to improve health care overall for all of us. And if there is something in Obamacare, we need to know about it."
Kingston's spokesman later said that he was advocating for replacement. But the damage was done and ever since, Kingston has been doing damage control. "I meant to say, if it's teetering, you have to push it over the cliff," he told The Hill. Before that, he reminded Fox News that he "voted 40 times to kill Obamacare."
The entire episode illustrates a reality of Republican politics right now: Anything that even smacks of soft talk on the health-care law will be subject to swift criticism from the political right. That's why the notion of "fixing" Obamacare as opposed to doing away with it is virtually a nonstarter.
Of course, talk of repeal -- which despite the law's unpopularity isn't a popular alternative, polls show -- is politically perilous for Republicans, too. In general elections against Democrats, it could leave them vulnerable to accusations of overreach. That's why much of the GOP was up in arms over the effort led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to shred the law in the recent budget and debt ceiling debate.
Republicans will need to find a balance between satisfying the conservative base -- which loathes Obamacare and wants it gone -- and not appearing to be over-correcting what the public now agrees is a very troubled law.
Where that balance lies and whether it even exists is what we'll find out in the coming months as the 2014 election grows near.