Progressives find themselves in the unlikely position today of feeling warm thoughts towards Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, best known until recently as an advocate for ethnic profiling as a tool for enforcing immigration laws. Brewer managed to bludgeon her Republican-controlled legislature into a grudging decision to accept the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion provisions. Politico‘s Jason Millman and Kyle Cheney sum it up:

Over the objection of Republican legislative leaders, a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats sent Brewer a bill on Thursday, extending Medicaid to an estimated 300,000 low-income uninsured Arizonans, transforming the state into the unlikeliest of Obamacare allies at a critical time for the White House….

Brewer…spoke loudly and carried a big stick — crisscrossing the state to promote expansion and shame detractors. This month, she started vetoing a stream of unrelated bills to pry her top priority loose from Republicans, and she brought them back into special session


The other reason Brewer’s an unlikely progressive hero is, of course, that the architects of the Affordable Care Act had no idea the Medicaid expansion would become voluntary, and then when the U.S. Supreme Court made it so, the conventional expectation (with which I disagreed early and often, for the record) was that the kind of prudential arguments Brewer’s been making would be universally accepted.

For elevating fiscal math and simple compassion over the anti-Obama and anti-government theology of the dominant wing of her party, Brewer was called “Judas” by one leading Arizona Republican. And even now, any Republican legislator who cooperated with her course of action could face a purge effort in 2014:

The right wing of her party remains opposed. And some are predicting that Republicans who joined Brewer in bucking the party base will suffer for it in their next campaign.

“Anybody aligned with this effort is going to be pounded in the primary,” said Frank Antenori, a former state lawmaker who’s spearheading an effort to undo Medicaid expansion through a voter referendum in 2014. “She’s probably cost at least a half a dozen, maybe more senators and representatives their political futures to get this done.”

A Republican Party that considers Jan Brewer a RINO squish needs a collective head examination more than any rebranding. But 300,000 Arizonans who will (unless the expansion is somehow reversed) now qualify for health care coverage will benefit from her defiance of the almighty “base.”

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.