Why do generals make the often humiliating decision to retreat from a battle? In order to suffer the small loss of retreating rather than the devastation of total defeat. That’s what’s happening now as the Republican Congress and the White House are swallowing a loss on the promise to repeal and replace Obamacare in the first 100 days of the new administration. But they’re also promising to get this bill up for a vote within another week.

They’d be better off staying in retreat.

That’s because the GOP replacement bill has been a mess from day one. First, Republican cowardice produced a new measure that basically kept the cost-exploding aspects of Obamacare in place, but pulled a good deal of what was already inadequate funding for it too.

When conservatives from the GOP Freedom Caucus couldn’t back that bill, a slight change was made giving individual states the right to get waivers that release them from certain aspects of the replacement bill, like providing government subsidies and essential benefits. Yet there still aren’t enough votes for House Speaker Paul Ryan to bring the bill to the full the House.

That’s because it still stinks, and it stinks enough to know that another week of delays won’t be enough to fix its problems. Yes, President Donald Trump and the other critics who have pointed out that Obamacare as it stands now is going to collapse. But the Republicans in Congress continue to think they can get away with a replacement bill that’s more of a tweak than a replacement.

This all comes down to cowardice. What the Congressional Republicans are trying to avoid is the negative polls and media coverage they’d suffer from any significant number of Americans who had been “covered” by Obamacare suddenly losing that “coverage.”

I put quotation marks around the words “covered” and “coverage” because for millions of Americans who have Obamacare but can’t afford the high deductibles or find doctors who accept their plans, they already are without real health insurance coverage anyway. Those Americans are furious and they’re the ones all the Republicans and Democrats should be worried about.

But Republicans in Washington can’t seem to explain to the American people that the best way to lower health insurance and health care costs is to increase competition in both arenas. The problem is most politicians, even from the GOP, don’t really believe in the free market. They’d rather keep their grip on the economic pillars of this country and enjoy the crony capitalist rewards that power brings. And their conduct during this entire Obamacare replacement process proves it.

Of course, this and all health care bills that focus on insurance instead of actual care are basically fruit from the poison tree. Health care and health insurance are two different things, as all those Americans who can’t afford the deductibles on their Obamacare plans have been finding out the hard way. But politicians from both parties have been addressing insurance for all these years because that’s the way they can look like they’re concerned about health care while still playing the usual lobbyist games.

Right now, Speaker Ryan and the White House seem to think the only real challenge is getting another handful of Republican holdouts to roll over and vote for this bill. A good number of conservative and moderate Republicans in the House are still either voting no on the bill or won’t reveal their intentions.

For Ryan and Trump, this is still all about arm twisting and not fixing the real problem. Yes they should be retreating, but not to do more internal lobbying. What they need to do is go back to the drawing board on this bill for at least a few more months and produce something bolder that actually might work. We know the Trump team and at least some Republicans on Capitol Hill are capable of some courage based on the truly bold and sweeping tax plan they’re now promoting.

The real danger the GOP and the Trump team face isn’t a matter of Republicans breaking ranks, but an already failing Obamacare system that’s will break faster because of them and their refusal to make more courageous choices.

And one week isn’t long enough to fix that.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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