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If Barack Obama’s legacy is preserved, it will be because it was shielded by those who detested him and his policies most.

For eight years, Republicans have railed against the former president’s signature and singular achievement, the Affordable Care Act, vowing to tear it to pieces as soon as they held the reins of power.

The GOP is locked in a do-or-die struggle to deliver on that promise. And it is failing.

Republican senators are holding to hard ideological positions that defy compromise, even with members of their own party. Hardliners will accept nothing less than a return to the pre-Obamacare insurance market that no longer exists and can’t be restored.

And moderates worry if they actually honor their vow to fully repeal the ACA, voters who’ve warmed to certain provisions of the law will punish them at the ballot box.

Credit Obama in part for the GOP’s impotence.

In designing the ACA, he dismantled the insurance market, forcing insurers to spend billions of dollars and several years to build a new system. Going back to what Republicans see as the good ol’ days is cost prohibitive and would invite a torrential backlash from Americans.

That’s because Obama also took care to load up his insurance plan with generous helpings of new middle class entitlements. And as we know in America, once a handout is given, it can never be taken away.

Credit today’s Democrats as well; they have been brilliant in their defense of Obamacare since the election of Trump.

They are feeding the public a flood of horror tales about the bad things that will happen if any piece of Obamacare goes away. And they’re packing the town halls of Republican congressional members with screaming voters who dare them to repeal the ACA at their own risk.

The media wing of the Democratic Party assists by repeating these suspect claims, and ignoring or distorting the basic facts of the GOP plan, including that it would actually increase Medicaid spending, continue to protect those with pre-existing conditions and bring back at least a smidgen of cost-lowering competition to the insurance market.

And they treat the notoriously inaccurate Congressional Budget Office as if it is a council of the gods, even though its scoring starts from the false baseline that the Obamacare status quo will hold.

So after eight years of consistently expressing their majority disapproval of Obamacare, Americans are suddenly not sure how they feel, even in the face of soaring ACA premiums and the collapse of its insurance exchanges.

That change in public perception has many Republicans wetting their pants. The more moderate members can’t figure out whether the electoral price of repealing Obamacare is greater than of not repealing it. And the right wingers won’t face reality that total repeal is off the table.

If they fail again to fix Obamacare, chances are great it will stand for the long term.

But of course, it can’t. It’s coming apart. To replace the disappearing exchanges, the states will have to absorb more people onto Medicaid. And that will move the nation far closer to the legacy Obama truly desired: forcing on America a single-payer national health care system.

nfinley@detroitnews.com

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