A flaw in this cynical calculation is that Republicans cannot prevent Democrats from attacking them over health care by abandoning the issue; if that strategy worked, the 2018 elections would have gone very differently. Most of the Republicans who will be running for office in 2020 have already gone on record wanting to replace Obamacare. The Republican administration is urging its abolition in court. Democrats already have enough warrant to accuse Republicans of seeking to eliminate a health law on which many millions of Americans rely. Republicans can choose whether to respond to that attack by pointing to their own plan, or by letting Democrats devise a caricatured conservative plan to tie to them.

It is true that especially in the event the lawsuit fails, no conservative health-care plan has a chance of passage through a Democratic House. There is not much chance even that a conservative plan can serve as the basis for a bipartisan compromise. Note, however, that it was considerations much like these that kept Republicans from settling on a health-care plan during the Obama administration: They did not want to take responsibility for legislation they had no way to enact. The consequence was that when they had the power to enact legislation, they were unready to do it. They had built no consensus among Republican politicians or voters.