If Republicans end up taking control of the U.S. Senate after the upcoming election, senators who want to run for president will have opportunities to make attention-grabbing bids to gut Obamacare and other odious Democratic programs. Kevin Williamson of National Review Online urges those White House aspirants within the GOP to follow a different path.

If indeed Republicans do enjoy a majority in both houses of Congress next term — what will they do with it?

There will be enormous pressure for them to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The Right desires catharsis, and it demands a ritual repudiation of Barack Obama and all that he stands for. Conservative populists want to read the word “repealed” on the front page of the Washington Post and the New York Times, to rub Democrats’ noses in it. The smart thing to do would be to quietly gut Obamacare, enacting something like Avik Roy’s health-care plan under the guise of fine-tuning the ACA. But if you have a Republican presidential primary in your near future, there’s no margin in doing the smart thing.

And there’s a kind of emotional symmetry at play: The Democrats do not often exhibit the courage of their convictions, but they knew that the ACA and how the fight over it went down were setting them up for an almighty smiting in 2010, and they did it anyway, because they thought it was worth it. Barack Obama was willing to risk having the health-care law be his last significant domestic-policy project as president. There are some on the right who pine for a similar demonstration of commitment from Republicans, even if that means that a 2014 congressional majority is short-lived.

The Democrats did not build the welfare state all at once in 1965, and Republicans didn’t have an honest shot at repealing it all at once in 1995. Everybody has a big plan, and Washington is full of magic bullets: leash the Fed, enact the Fair Tax, seal the borders. But what’s needed — what might actually result in a stronger American order — is a thirty years’ war of attrition against the welfare state and entrenched incompetency. Federal crimes and misdemeanors ranging from the IRS scandal to the fumbling response to Ebola suggest very strongly that we have management and oversight problems as well as ideological ones, but holding oversight hearings long after (one hopes) Ebola is out of domestic headlines provides very little juice for a presidential candidate facing a restive base all hopped up on Hannity. Being the guy who gets up and demands the repeal of Obamacare might get you elected president; being the guy who fixes the damned thing simply makes you a target for talk-radio guys who have never run for nor held an elected office but who will nonetheless micturate upon your efforts from a great height.