SETTING THE REPEAL TRAP…. When Democrats first started pressing Republicans on whether they’re prepared to commit to repealing health care reform, it seemed counter-intuitive. Indeed, last week, when Dems said that they would demand a clear answer on repeal from every GOP candidate, NRSC spokesperson Brian Walsh said, “I realize it’s the holiday season and all, but my advice would be to cut back on the spiked eggnog.”

The Republicans’ far-right base, of course, is making the same demand, and that’s easier to explain. Newt Gingrich said on “Meet the Press” the other day that “every Republican in 2010 and 2012 will run on an absolute pledge to repeal this bill.” The party’s right-wing base will apparently tolerate nothing less — they hate the reform package (or what they think they know about it) and expect their allies to make “Obamacare” go away.

But what’s interesting is that leading Democrats seem quite sincere in their hopes that Gingrich is right and that every GOP candidate really will run on a repeal pledge. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer had this item earlier today:

[B]efore it even becomes law, opponents of health care reform … are already talking about repealing it. Certainly there is a fundamental disagreement here, since many opponents of reform — again including Gingrich — appear to think that insurance companies can do no wrong. […]

[E]veryone should be very clear what is being called for here. At a time when insurance companies are finally about to be reined in, and when American families are finally about to be given control over their own health care, opponents of reform are advocating that insurance companies once again be allowed to run wild.

While several provisions of the health care reform initiative wouldn’t kick in until 2014, the really popular measures would kick in almost immediately in 2010. Consumers would have all kinds of new protections, including a ban on discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, the elimination of rescissions, and a ban on annual or lifetime caps.

And that’s exactly why the aggressive repeal push from Republican activists and the Tea Party crowd offers Dems an important opportunity. Democratic leaders would love nothing more than to be able to tell voters next year, “A vote for a Republican is a vote to let insurance companies screw over American families. Know those new protections that just became law? Republicans will take them away unless you vote Democratic.”

Some GOP candidates are willing to back partial repeal, in part because they know parts of the package are popular, and in part because they realize that total repeal is practically impossible. But for the right-wing base, partial isn’t good enough. As Josh Marshall noted yesterday, “After all, if it’s really the end of the universe, America and Apple Pie, as Republicans have been suggesting, it’s hard to say you just want to tinker at the margins.”

It puts Republican candidates in a box. Democrats are going to ask, “Are you really going to fight to repeal protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions?” If the Republican says “no,” he/she alienates the GOP activists who will settle for nothing but a full repeal. If the Republican says “yes,” he/she alienates the mainstream electorate.

It leaves Dems and Teabaggers asking the same question at the same time: are Republicans prepared to embrace a total repeal pledge or not?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.