Reason's Peter Suderman has noticed something odd about Democrats' increasingly tepid defense of ObamaCare:

More and more, Democrats have stopped defending the actual legislation as it exists on the books and in the real world. Instead, they have started arguing in favor of what might be described as a hypothetical "good parts" version of the law. They defend the idea of Obamacare, of a government-granted guarantee of affordable universal coverage, rather than the whole legislation itself.

Suderman cites Minnesota's Democratic governor Mark Dayton, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (after her husband made tactless remarks about the current president's legacy item), and even Nancy Pelosi, whose enthusiasm for the Affordable Care Act was partly responsible for its being passed, in this category. "Let's see how it works and improve it," Pelosi recently said. She also remarked that she would "love" a single-payer system. (That may be where the battle lines will be drawn.)

While Republicans have put forth alternatives to ObamaCare, Donald Trump's attacks on the law were inconsistent and incoherent, Suderman notes. Thus it was not attacks during the presidential campaign season that led Democrats to face up to some of the shortcomings of ObamaCare:

 Instead, pressure came from the legislation's real-world failures. From spiking premiums to dwindling plan choice to blatantly illegal payouts, 2016 was the year that Obamacare finally became indefensible.

To understand why Obamacare went so wrong in 2016, you have to understand its history and design. Obamacare was always politically contentious. When debate over the legislation that would become the Affordable Care Act began in 2009, Republicans were unified in their opposition to the law. The public, too, was always wary: For essentially all of the health law's life, more of the public has opposed it than supported it. Committed Democrats were its only basis of support.

The law was challenged repeatedly at the Supreme Court, and though it survived, it did not remain unchanged. In particular, the Court altered Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid, the health program for the poor and disabled jointly funded by the states and the federal government, which was one of the two main ways that the law expanded insurance coverage. After a 2012 Supreme Court challenge, states gained the option to decline to expand Medicaid under the law without risking federal matching funds.

The law's other major mechanism for expanding coverage was a system of subsidies for middle- and lower-middle-class Americans to buy health insurance. That kicked in at the beginning of 2014, but it struggled out of the gate. Most of the online health insurance exchanges—some run by individual states, some managed by the federal government—were essentially unusable for months after they went online in October 2013. Even after they became usable, back-end systems remained incomplete for years, causing headaches for insurers, who had to manually compile and submit information about what subsidies they were owed by the government.

Last year turned out to be the death spiral year for ObamaCare, with enrollment far below projections and insurers, who had anticipated a boon from ObamaCare, bailing on the system. Premiums skyrocketed and, as exchanges folded, customers were left with little or no choice as to insurers. The curtain was stripped away:

Obamacare was sold as a market-driven system in which private insurers would compete for business. But the business—regulated, managed, and designed by the federal government—was never as good as promised. The customers didn't show up, and now the insurers are on their way out too.

President Obama became the last defender–but even this was somewhat less than full-throated:

But even Obama seemed to treat Obamacare more as a policy foundation than as something complete and functional unto itself. Its successes were real, he insisted, but "that doesn't mean that it's perfect. No law is." He tempered his praise by framing the end of his speech as a question about how to address the system's "growing pains."

Suderman does not see the GOP being emboldened by the Democrats' growing awareness of the insufficiency of ObamaCare:

While Democrats seem willing to stick their necks out only for the idea of ObamaCare, many Republicans now are finding that some parts of the law are good and must be maintained:

And so D.C. is trapped in a kind of bipartisan Freaky Friday scenario. Down-and-out Democrats find themselves sticking up for Obamacare in name only, while gesturing vaguely at an ill-defined glorious future. Meanwhile, newly empowered Republicans rail against the law while quietly considering the merits of maintaining many of its core components.

The social consensus has shifted and whatever system supplants ObamaCare will not leave people with preexisting conditions out in the cold nor (pace the Democrats) will it toss newly-insured people to the wolves. But it's time to stop talking about maintaining "core components" of a system that has not worked.

ObamaCare is a bad law and Republicans should not lose their nerve. It's time for real health care reform and this is the opportunity. The GOP has come up with market-based health care reform that would be more humane than ObamaCare and this is not the time to flinch–or just become lazy.

Suderman's article is long but well worth reading–it gives a pretty comprehensive explanation of how ObamaCare failed.