Alarmist conservative rhetoric on Obamacare (socialist, dangerous, an existential economic threat, and a failure before it starts) is another potential land mine. What are the chances that, as people experience the law firsthand, they’ll look at that rhetoric and wonder what the heck Republicans were talking about? “At least 50-50. Probably higher,” says Ron Haskins, a social policy expert at the Brookings Institution and a former senior GOP aide on Capitol Hill. He says he’s been worried about the direction of his party for months. “Everyday I wake up and it’s something new,” he says.

There are plenty of Republicans outside Congress who could serve as counterweights to the harsh image fueled by developments on Capitol Hill, and even a few inside. But elder statesmen like John McCain and Bob Dole aren’t being heeded, and reactions by people eying the White House have ranged from oblique to MIA.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, running for reelection this year and a leading 2016 prospect, usually goes the route of “everyone’s to blame.” But he did release a campaign ad this week – ” Bipartisan” – that could be read as a rebuke of House and Senate conservatives who would rather get nowhere than settle for less than 100 percent. “I say what I believe. But I also know that my job is to get things done for the people of the state,” Christie says in the ad. Then, after citing tax cuts, spending cuts, improving education, and reforms of tenure, pensions and benefits, he concludes: “Everything we’ve done has been a bipartisan accomplishment. See, I think as long as you stick to your principles, compromise isn’t a dirty word.”