Put aside the bravado and cliches, and Republicans know what the polls say about tax increases. GOP assumptions that the American mainstream agrees with the Republican line — no increases on anyone by any amount at any time — are long gone, and most of the country welcomes the idea of the wealthy shouldering a little more of the burden.

The question is what GOP lawmakers are prepared to say and/or do about it. Today, ABC posed a question about tax fairness to Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. I found his response pretty interesting.

Sessions said he’s willing to consider something that would bring tax equity by ensuring the rich pay as high a percentage in taxes as middle-class taxpayers, but cautioned that such a move could backfire.

“I’m prepared to look at that,” he said, “but let me tell you about capital gains….”

What I find noteworthy are these minor cracks in the GOP’s wall of opposition. On Capitol Hill, phrases like “I’m prepared to look at that” are often seen as a signal of potential support, or at least something far short of outright opposition.

And it comes against the backdrop of related fissures. Freshman Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) told voters last week he’s willing to talk about higher tax rates for millionaires and billionaires.

What’s more, last month, four far-right House Republicans participated in a joint town-hall meeting in a very conservative area. Three of the four said they’re open to additional revenue, and one said he wouldn’t rule out tax increases on those earning over $700,000 a year.

A week later, Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) was badgered by constituents at a town-hall meeting on the need to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations, and reluctantly said he’s open to ending oil-company subsidies and closing tax loopholes. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), confronted by 200 angry constituents the same week, said the same thing.

Would any of these guys even consider this if the polls were one-sided in the other direction? I really doubt it. This matters, of course, because if Dems are aggressive and united on this — a big “if,” to be sure — and Republicans are “prepared to look at” progressive ideas, it suggests there’s at least a chance of some progress on tax policy.

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.