I’ve been noting here for some time that one way to gauge how the politics of Obamacare are really playing — as opposed to the simplistic “it’s a massive disaster for terrified Dems” storyline preferred by some commentators — is to look at how Republicans are handling the issue.

Today Politico delivers in a big way with a deep dive into New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown’s gyrations on Obamacare repeal. This is some epic buffoonery here, folks. There’s his support for Romneycare, the model for the national health law. But the best stuff is buried deep in the piece:

Neither on the trail nor in an interview did the candidate make clear what he’d propose as an alternative to the president’s health law. At one stop, he suggested repealing Obamacare but letting New Hampshire’s beneficiaries be “grandfathered in” so they don’t lose coverage. A spokeswoman walked that back in a subsequent conversation.“You can’t grandfather people from something you’re fully repealing,” she said, emphasizing Brown’s intent to wipe out Obamacare before entertaining a replacement.

When asked in the past what he’d do instead, he’s previously served up word salad. Now he’s mumbling something about “grandfathering in” people benefiting from the law, and getting rapidly corrected by his spokesperson? This confirms, again, that the political difficulties of repeal are making GOP candidates feel obliged to pretend to have an alternative — but there’s no real policy space for an alternative that would do what Obamacare does without the tradeoffs the law requires, which in turn makes repeal still less tenable.

Meanwhile, we’ve already seen that Brown refuses to take a position on the Medicaid expansion in New Hampshire, and that continues here:

Brown’s been careful in how he talks about New Hampshire’s embrace of Medicaid expansion, too. He won’t say whether he supports the plan, which passed with the support of some Republicans and lots of New Hampshire stakeholders. Instead, he argues that Washington can’t be trusted to pay its share of the cost and that Medicaid isn’t a permanent health care solution.

“I’m encouraged any time government functions,” he said in the interview. “We’re a very philanthropic society. We always want people to have safety nets. Medicaid is meant to be a temporary measure to provide benefits for people who are in difficult circumstances. It’s not meant to be going on forever.”

Deep! I’ve already pointed out the ways multiple Dem candidates are using the Medicaid expansion against Republicans, so no need to rehash that here. Suffice it to say that this is probably the best example yet of how untenable the GOP repeal stance is getting. Perhaps more than any other GOP Senate candidate, Brown’s entire rationale for his candidacy is that Obamacare is a disaster. Yet he won’t take a position on a core provision that’s impacting tens of thousands in the state he’d represent and he still can’t figure out how to even pretend he’d replace the law with his own reforms.

None of this means Dems will hold the Senate. It’s possible Republicans will be able to muddle through with this sort of ridiculousness (vowing repeal while vaguely promising to replace the good stuff in Obamacare without the bad) and still win six or more seats. If so, structural factors will be the reason for it.

However, it’s worth noting that even as Brown’s repeal buffoonery is getting more pronounced, incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen is getting more confident (as Politico also reports) in trumpeting the law’s benefits. These things may prove to be mutually reinforcing. As the law fades from the headlines and people enjoy its benefits, the repeal rhetoric could increasingly sound like white noise to swing voters and appear increasingly ridiculous on the merits — further emboldening Dems to stand up for the law’s benefits and point out that the GOP’s only answer is to take them away. Either way, it’s good to see GOP struggles with the issue getting a bit more scrutiny.

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* CONSERVATIVES STRUGGLE TO REASSERT CONTROL OVER GOP: The Post has an interesting look at conservatives who increasingly worry that the GOP establishment’s string of victories over Tea Party candidates means they will be cast aside even if Republicans win the Senate:

The group, alarmed by a resurgence of the GOP establishment in recent primaries and what activists view as a softened message, drafted demands to be shared with senior lawmakers calling on the party  to “recommit” to bedrock principles. Some of those principles laid out in the new document — strict opposition to illegal immigration, same-sex marriage and abortion — represent the hot-button positions that many Republican congressional candidates are trying to avoid as the party attempts to broaden its appeal.

A GOP-controlled Senate won’t pass immigration reform that will repair the party’s Latino problem, and the same divisions will hamstring the party’s efforts to broaden its appeal to the national electorate.

* GEORGIA PRIMARY COULD COMPLICATE GOP QUEST FOR SENATE: Manu Raju takes a look at the GOP Senate primary underway in Georgia, which is getting nastier and nastier in the home stretch, amid “charges of sexism, arrogance, lying, distortion, and even promoting teenage homosexuality.”

The fight here underscores a larger dynamic this midterm year: While the environment is ripe for a Senate GOP majority, one or two missteps could leave Republicans frustratingly short for a third straight election cycle. Party officials insist they won’t let that happen, but the vitriol among the candidates — and their efforts to outrun one another to the right — are precisely what Democratic hopeful Michelle Nunn and her allies were hoping for.

Neither Tea Partyer will win the nomination, but the question is whether the nominee will have to lurch so far to the right that it could make a surprise Dem pickup possible — something that could be made more likely, now that a primary runoff seems all but certain.

* GEORGIA SENATE GOP FRONTRUNNER LURCHES TO RIGHT: Also from the above link, here’s primary front-runner David Perdue in an interview:

Every time Perdue offers a whiff of compromise, he gets pounded by his opponents, so it’s unclear exactly where he’d bend. In the interview, he doubted the science of climate change and said he wouldn’t bother to fix Obamacare, saying the whole law needs to be scrapped. He called talk of raising the minimum wage “backward thinking.”

The minimum wage in particular will be central in many of these red state races.

* MIKE PENCE EMBRACES MEDICAID EXPANSION: Indiana Governor Mike Pence is embracing a version of the Medicaid expansion, and the Indy Star offers this arch description of his position:

Although Indiana’s Republican governor proposed a way of accessing billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid in Indiana, he’s still opposed to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and thinks it should be repealed. But states have an obligation to lead the way on health care reform, Pence said in announcing his alternative to traditional Medicaid. And that means showing Indiana can get better results for taxpayers and the poor.

So the Medicaid expansion is good for taxpayers and the poor, but Obamacare should be repealed! And the profound philosophical conundrum remains unsolved: Is the Medicaid expansion actually Obamacare?

* THE LATEST GOP EXCUSE ON IMMIGRATION: Conservatives are excitedly waving around a new report that purports to show that the DHS released tens of thousands of immigrants with criminal records during deportation screenings, and Republicans are citing it as the latest evidence Obama can’t be trusted to enforce the law.

This report aside, the issue here is very simple: Can Republicans offer a serious proposal of their own that confers legal status on the 11 million, on terms that they find acceptable? How many House Republicans are willing to support such a proposal? Reform can’t move forward until that bridge is crossed, and whether Republicans can cross it has nothing to do with Obama.

* THE ISSUES WON’T SAVE DEMOCRATS IN 2014: Dems have the advantage on multiple issues, but Brendan Nyhan explains why that won’t save them this fall:

First, the midterm electorate is not representative of the American public. The public’s preferences for Democrats on the issues may diminish or disappear once you look at registered voters or those who claim they are “absolutely certain” to vote…In addition, the importance of the issues in congressional elections is typically overstated. Structural factors like presidential approval, the state of the economy, the type of election (midterm or presidential year) and the composition of the seats that are up for election tend to matter more.

I agree, but Dems know all this. Dems need to limit their losses to five Senate seats. It may not prove to be enough, but the focus on the “fair shot” issues agenda is all about limiting the damage on the margins. It’s not as if Dems have their heads in the sand about the difficulties they face.

* AND OBAMACARE MAY SAVE LIVES, BUT IT STILL SUCKS: Jonathan Cohn has a very good piece detailing conservatives’ latest efforts to come to terms with a new study finding that expanding health coverage saves lives while simultaneously still declaring the law’s tradeoffs aren’t worth it:

It’d be great to come up with some honest way of tallying all of these numbers, to get a true sense of the costs and benefits and Obamacare. But there’s no obvious, straightforward way to construct such a ledger. Many of these variables are impossible to measure accurately, while others require drawing conclusions that are based more on philosophy than empircal data. About the only thing that seems absolutely clear is that the figures some Obamacare detractors are throwing around right now don’t mean much. Like Obamacare or hate it, it’s clearly about a lot more than just saving lives.

It’s unlikely that the efforts to declare Obamacare a total failure will abate anytime soon, no matter what the evidence coming in shows.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.