IF THEY WERE LOOKING FOR COVER, THEY FOUND IT…. Proponents of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have been looking to this week as the last, best chance to convince the Senate to do the right thing. The combination of the Pentagon’s report on servicemembers’ attitudes and a high-profile hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee would, if all went well, give Democrats the boost they need to finish their work.

So far, repeal advocates have reason to be pleased. The Pentagon’s report was arguably even more encouraging than expected, and today’s hearing, featuring testimony from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen, and the co-chairmen of the Pentagon’s Working Group who prepared the study, answered every possible objection. Every Republican rationale was raised, considered, and debunked.

If you missed the hearing, which will have a second day tomorrow, Igor Volsky did a great job compressing hours of exchanges into this six-minute clip.

But a point Greg Sargent raised seemed especially important: “Military leaders essentially pleaded with GOP Senators to support repealing DADT, arguing that the failure to do so would put the state of our military at serious risk. In his testimony this morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates put this as clearly as you could ask for.”

For Republicans open to even the slightest bit of reason, this should offer them all the cover they need. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense — both of whom were appointed by a conservative Republican president, incidentally — said approving the pending repeal provision is what’s best for the U.S. military. Period. Full stop.

We already know that, for the clear majority of Senate Republicans, this is irrelevant. Just a few years after it was deemed outrageous and unpatriotic for elected politicians to ignore the judgment of our military leaders during a time of war, the GOP Senate caucus will no doubt try to kill DADT repeal anyway, because, well, they and their base really don’t like gay people. That these gay people are willing to volunteer to put their lives on the line for the rest of us is apparently irrelevant.

But repeal proponents don’t need all the Senate Republicans; they need a handful of Senate Republicans. Going into today, there were in upwards of five GOP members who were at least open to doing the right thing.

If they were paying attention today, looking for reassurance, the course ahead should be obvious.

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.