THE REPUBLICAN IDEA THAT REPUBLICANS HATE…. If recent rhetoric is a reliable guide, the part of the Affordable Care Act that Republicans loathe the most is the individual mandate. For right-wing activists, it represents an unprecedented assault on liberty. For right-wing grandstanders, it represents the basis for litigation.

But as the complaints continue, it’s worth keeping in mind that the mandate has long been a Republican idea. Sam Stein has this report today:

Though Republican lawmakers now vilify the individual mandate for health insurance coverage as unconstitutional, the provision has long roots in conservative health care philosophy and has been supported by such GOP presidents as Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush.

Republican administrations were among the first to embrace the concept of forcing individuals to buy coverage. Nixon — hoping to stave off the single-payer ethos of many congressional Democrats — explored the idea in the 1970s, though Republicans now dismiss those discussions as the byproduct of a moderate president searching for a domestic policy victory.

Less than two decades later, in what remains an unexplored chapter of health care history, a surprising supporter of the individual mandate was George H.W. Bush. According to contemporaneous reporting, Bush used “the tax system to ‘encourage and empower’ individuals to buy health insurance and would enact insurance market reforms that make it possible for everyone — even if they have pre-existing health problems — to get insurance.” In short: individuals would be mandated to buy catastrophic health insurance. The cost of that coverage would be tied to income, meaning that the poorer you were, the less expensive your policy would be.

In Nixon’s case, Dems thought they’d hold out for a better deal after Nixon’s presidency collapsed. In Bush’s case, the proposal wasn’t seriously pursued. But in both instances, among conservative thinkers of the day, the notion of an individual mandate was “in vogue,” including having been endorsed by the Heritage Foundation.

To clarify further, this isn’t an idea Republicans were willing to tolerate in years past as part of negotiations with Dems, but rather, this was a Republican idea. They’re the ones who came up with it.

Indeed, I’m thinking about creating a roster of prominent Republicans who’ve either endorsed the individual mandate, voted for a plan with an individual mandate, co-sponsored legislation with an individual mandate, or all of the above. The list isn’t short: George H.W. Bush, Richard Nixon, John McCain, Bob Dole, Mitt Romney, Scott Brown, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Bob Bennett, Tommy Thompson, Lamar Alexander, Lindsey Graham, and Judd Gregg, among others.

All of them have supported an individual mandate — a provision that Republicans now believe to be an unconstitutional freedom-killer that must be eliminated for the sake of American liberty.

They couldn’t have picked an idea to rally around that would have made the GOP look less silly?

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Steve Benen

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.