McConnell, who is spending the month at home campaigning for his 2014 re-election bid, called Obamacare "single worst piece of legislation passed in the last 50 years in the country. We need to get rid of it, and I think we get rid of it piece by piece."
In an ordinary political environment, McConnell's remarks would hardly be newsworthy. A bill as long and complicated as the Affordable Care Act, which despite its maze of regulations is fundamentally modeled on free-market ideas and includes many Republican amendments, will surely have some elements a GOP lawmaker can support.
While he didn't explain which provisions are acceptable to him, last year various Republicans voiced support for popular Obamacare components such as protections for people with preexisting conditions, letting Americans under 27 remain on a parent's insurance plan and closing the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap for seniors.
But the political environment surrounding Obamacare is anything but ordinary -- with the ferocious Republican assault on the bill, the party's exaggerated warnings that it will ruin American freedom, and the base's determination to scrap every last bit of it. So McConnell's remarks quickly became fodder for his conservative primary challenger, Matt Bevin, who accused the GOP leader's of "flip-flop[ping] on repealing Obamacare in its entirety."
"We have to do whatever it takes to repeal Obamacare, and if we can't repeal it, we have a responsibility to the American people to defund it," Bevin said in a statement Thursday, responding to McConnell's remarks. "If Mitch McConnell had ever worked in the private sector, he might understand that. If Senator McConnell is not willing to act to end Obamacare, he needs to get out of the way."
That McConnell is being attacked for his remark illustrates the box Republicans have put themselves in while feeding conservatives' greatest fears about the Affordable Care Act. That same dynamic is evident as right-leaning groups mount an all-out push to defund Obamacare in a resolution to keep government open after Sept. 30 -- an idea that veteran Republicans like McConnell recognize is politically infeasible and self-defeating.