Governor Kasich got himself into a little hot water over comments he made about Obamacare and Medicaid expansion to the AP.th-2

Kasich told the AP that he did not think repeal was going to happen because “political or ideological” opposition does not “hold water” against “real improvements in peoples’ lives.”

The AP thought Kasich meant opposition to Obamacare would not “hold water,” but Kasich’s staff claims the Governor meant opposition to Obamacare Medicaid expansion.

The Washington Post picked up on the story publishing a headline, “John Kasich just broke with his party on Obamacare. Or did he?”

There’s a couple issues at play here that are going to prove increasingly difficult for the Kasich camp to maneuver as he continues to walk the fine line between his support for Obamacare Medicaid expansion and his professed opposition to Obamacare.

First off, you have the Obamacare enrollment figures which show, as the Daily Signal puts it, that “Obamacare so far is simply an expansion of Medicaid.” 71% of ACA enrollees for the first half of 2014 are Medicaid enrollees. So when Kasich’s team ties themselves into knots explaining Kasich’s for expansion, but against Obamacare, it’s a little ridiculous. What we have here is a distinction without a difference.  Kasich needs to accept, in light of the numbers, you cannot be against Obamacare and for its expansion of Medicaid.

Secondly, you have Kasich’s image in Ohio vs. his national image. Kasich worked hard after the SB 5 debacle to improve his popularity, and thus his chances for re-election, by moving to the middle and painting himself as a champion of the poor and oppressed.  Implementing Obamacare Medicaid expansion was key to this rebranding and the Obamacare dollars that were attached made expansion even more attractive to the governor.  Nationally, though, Kasich is considered a pro-growth governor and is still known as the conservative budget hawk who helped balance the federal budget back in 1997.

But as the presidential race grows nearer and pundits take a closer look at his record in Ohio, it’s going to become more difficult for Governor Kasich to maintain two separate images. To have a shot at the Republican nomination, Kasich needs Republicans everywhere to see him as a fiscal conservative.  Therefore, he needs people to overlook the fact that he implemented what has turned out to be the most significant component of Obamacare against the wishes of Ohio’s Republican state legislature.

Kasich’s Medicaid expansion is troublesome in other ways as well. While Governor Kasich was busy implementing Obamacare by expanding Medicaid, Republicans at the national level were working to dismantle Obamacare through their repeal votes in Congress and through Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2013 balanced budget proposal in the U.S. House.  The single largest cut in Ryan’s budget proposal was Obamacare Medicaid expansion, over $800 billion across all states. Kasich talks a lot about a balanced budget at the federal level.  Just how does he propose to balance the federal budget while maintaining funding for Medicaid expansion?

The AP incident represents the first of a lot of conversations Kasich is going to have about his conflicting positions on Obamacare.

In the meantime, Kasich wants to secure a big win in Ohio on November 4th and take that momentum into a presidential race. Will that win come at too large a cost – that of his fiscal conservative credentials? Time will tell. If so, Kasich will find that he too has become a distinction without a difference.