One of the most amusing subplots of the 2014 elections has been the endless and frequently comic struggles of GOP Senate candidates to articulate their position on Medicaid. The politics of Obamacare are supposed to be nothing but a slam dunk for Republicans — yet many can’t seem to answer the simple question of whether the Medicaid expansion should remain in place in the states they would represent.

Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst has now opened herself up to this line of questioning. Asked how she would approach entitlements in an interview with John Harwood, Ernst says people on Medicaid should should be allowed to keep it:

“What we have to do is protect those that are on Medicaid now; those that are on Social Security now. That, we need to protect. We have made promises to these people…We have to understand there’s a problem, and address it. But those that are already engaged in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, we need to protect that for them.”

Does this mean Ernst is now trying to claim she supports allowing those on Iowa’s version of the Medicaid expansion to keep their benefits? Unclear, but it sure sounds like it. And yet she proudly touted her vote against Iowa’s Medicaid expansion and continues to be a gung-ho advocate for repealing Obamacare, which would roll back funding for the expansion.

Iowa’s Medicaid expansion is expected to make coverage available to around 100,000 people on its Medicaid expansion, and according to Charles Gaba, at least 20,000 people had already signed up as of three months ago. Ernst’s repeal stance would mean all those people lose their coverage. Does she no longer think that should happen? I’ve emailed Ernst’s campaign for clarification.

This comes after another GOP Senate candidate in a top-tier Senate race — Tom Cotton in Arkansas — once again refused to say this week whether his repeal stance means he would roll back his state’s version of the Medicaid expansion, which is partly responsible for the steepest drop in uninsured in the country. Terri Lynn Land in Michigan has also refused to clarify her position on this.

Ernst may mean that those currently on the Medicaid expansion would be somehow grandfathered in after Obamacare is repealed. If so, that puts her in the company of Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Scott Brown in New Hampshire, who both have mumbled similar bromides.

The larger point here is that commentators are not telling the full story of how the politics of Obamacare are really playing out. The focus is only on “disapproval” of the law and the drag this is having on Democratic candidates. Both of those are very real. But let’s not ignore the struggles GOP candidates are having with the policy specifics of this debate or the political implications of those struggles. Nor should we overlook the limits of their attacks on the law: At this point they are largely attacking the word “Obamacare” while reassuring swing voters they support its general goals, without saying how they would accomplish those goals.

These candidates may well get away with these games and win their races. But those games — which would not be necessary if Obamacare were the uniform political disaster Republicans say it is — are still revealing and important.

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Update I: Matt Canter, the deputy executive director of the DSCC, responds to Ernst:

She’s desperately trying to hide her support for a number of tea party policies, namely eliminating RFS and eliminating a federal minimum wage, because her consultants know all these tea party ideas are disqualifying in a general. But it’s a futile effort. There’s video of her espousing all these ideas that are bad for Iowa.

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Update II: Judging by the question Ernst was asked, she very well may have meant “Medicare,” and not “Medicaid,” in the first part of her answer. But she clearly specified that folks on Medicaid should be allowed to stay on it in the second part, and she should be asked, given her repeal stance, to clarify whether that includes people getting the Medicaid expansion.

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* HOW THE GOP REPEAL GAME REALLY WORKS: Brian Beutler has a good piece spelling out the game Republican candidates are playing and its larger meaning for the long term policy debate:

We’ve reached a point in the fight over Obamacare where the best thing Republicans have on their side is the law’s unpopular brand…the GOP’s obsession with the moniker, and only the moniker, is excellent news for Obamacare’s political durability. But only if the people who cover politics are clear about the implications of the GOP’s rhetoric….to an unappreciated extent, the broader Republican strategy heading into November is to speak in abstractions, and take cover behind what’s left unsaid.

The refusal to reckon with the true implications of GOP rhetoric is why this game very well may work.

* VIOLENCE SUBSIDES IN FERGUSON: At a news conference early this morning, officials announced that the National Guard is being withdrawn from Ferguson, Missouri, as clashes between police and protestors seem to be coming to an end after two weeks of violence. Hopefully now we can focus on figuring out exactly the shooting of Michael Brown went down — and beyond that, on determining whether it is possible that Congress might do something to address the over-militarization of police.

* ACCOUNTS OF FERGUSON SHOOTING DIFFER: Also, the Post is reporting on differing accounts of the shooting: One eyewitness says officer Darren Wilson grabbed for Michael Brown and then shot him as he ran away. But:

In his account to close confidants, Wilson has repeatedly said he thought Brown was acting erratically when they had an altercation on a street in a garden apartment complex in Ferguson. He said that Brown was coming at him when he fired the fatal shots. “Darren was adamant that he believed Michael Brown had some drugs in his system,” the friend said.

* RAND PAUL LURCHES RIGHT ON IMMIGRATION: Nice catch by Sam Stein: Senator Rand Paul, who supposedly wants to moderate the GOP’s outreach to minorities, confirms that he supports the House bill to roll back Obama’s programs protecting those brought here illegally as children from deportation.

This is one more bit of confirmation that the border crisis has led the Republican Party to box itself into a position to the right of Mitt Romney’s 2012 “self deportation” stance. What could go wrong?

* OBAMA’S EXECUTIVE ACTION COULD SCRAMBLE OUR POLITICS: With Obama’s decision on how far to go to protect more people from deportations looming, Dem Rep. Raul Grijalva makes a key point here about how that decision could scramble the 2016 presidential race:

“If the president does something big, it is going to build momentum, maybe not during his time in office, but I guarantee you, whoever runs for president in 2016 will have question Number 1 to answer on the issue of immigration reform,” Grijalva said. “The question will be: Are you going to extend (Obama’s) executive actions on immigration?”

In the general election, immigration reform will be a major issue. But during the GOP presidential primary, the candidates will be asked: Will you roll back Obama’s executive actions? The answer will be Yes — shifting the GOP further to the right.

* ABOUT THAT CONSERVATIVE INFLATION OBSESSION: Paul Krugman today explains the real root of conservative opposition to easy money policies to fight unemployment, which is always done in the name of preventing inflation:

Low interest rates mean low long-term returns for bondholders (who are generally wealthy), but they also mean short-term capital gains for those same bondholders…Inflation obsession is as closely associated with conservative politics as demands for lower taxes on capital gains. It’s less clear why. But faith in the inability of government to do anything positive is a central tenet of the conservative creed. 

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.