After campaigning for years on the immediate destruction of Obamacare simply because it had the name "Obama" in it, Republicans are suddenly concerned with what will happen to the millions of Republican voters who rely on the law for their healthcare. More specifically, they're concerned with those voters punishing Republicans for taking their healthcare away:
Hard-liners are pushing to move as fast as possible, bolstered by a GOP base eager to see lawmakers follow through on years of promises. But key congressional leaders are keenly concerned about potentially throwing millions off their insurance plans and repeating what they have long decried as Democratic missteps eight years ago, sparking a fierce political backlash by moving too far, too fast.
That's a bit of a false equivalence. The "fierce political backlash" the Democrats faced was an artificial creation of Republicans opposing their own legislation to undermine Obama. In the case of repealing Obamacare but not replacing it, the backlash would be 100% organic. It's an important distinction to bear in mind as Republicans waffle on unnecessarily hurting the American public. Especially since the Democrats aren't going to give them even the tiniest fig leaf of bipartisan cover:
“I’d like to do it tomorrow, but reality is another matter sometimes,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which will help lead the “repeal and replace” efforts. “We have to live with the real world. And the real world right now is that the Democrats won’t help with anything.”
Yes, it's hard to imagine why the Democrats won't help Republicans strip healthcare from the sick and the poor. It's almost like they don't share the Republicans disdain for Americans in need of help.
But all of this waffling is good for the ACA. The longer it stays in place, the harder it will be to dismantle without a full legitimate replacement (which does not really exist unless you go to the left). And that replacement is not likely to be agreed upon anytime soon. Some Republicans like Trump, want to keep all the good parts (kids stay on their parents' plan, guaranteed coverage of pre-existing conditions) but have no plan to pay for them. Others, like Trump's pick to head HHS Tom Price, want to throw the old, the sick and the poor under the bus. Until they can come up with a plan that they all agree on (unlikely), Obamacare isn't going anywhere just yet.
Political inertia is a very real thing which is why Republicans tried so hard to kill Obamacare (and Social Security and Medicare) before they were implemented. Killing these kinds of programs after the public has begun to depend on them is a risk many are not willing to take. As long as a Democrat was in the White House, yes, Obamacare was a juicy target to demagogue against. But, like the dog that catches the car, the reality of repealing the law is not as tempting. Even continuing to sabotage the law is a problem because the public will blame the party in complete control of the White House and Congress, not the law itself. After all, if it's broken, why aren't they fixing it?
Even the plan to repeal Obamacare but delay that repeal until after the 2018 midterm elections is dangerous because the health insurance market would go haywire, angering the powerful insurance lobby and the millions of voters that would be hurt by it.
In the end, it might come down to whether or not Trump sees any benefit in hurting his base for an ideology he doesn't really care about. Without pressure from the executive branch, there just doesn't seem to be the will in the Senate to kill the law outright. It's sad that we have to rely on political inertia to save a law that has saved countless lives but we have to use any and every tool at our disposal to keep Republicans from shredding the social safety net in the name of greed and indifference to human suffering.