It may be that Newt Gingrich did Democrats and liberals a tremendous favor by establishing the Ryan plan as a sacred cow. By criticizing it, Newt embarked on what was the worst political week in recent history and set the groundrules for any other Republican campaigns -- the Ryan plan is the most perfect and brilliant piece of legislation ever written and Republican candidates criticize it at their peril.
Which is why Democrats are so eager to make it a campaign issue. Let me correct that; Democrats want to make it the campaign issue. Polling shows that Ryan's plan is about as popular as a fart in an elevator, making it a perplexing hill for House Republicans to choose to die on.
But that's exactly what they've done, as Newt Gingrich so handily demonstrated. Criticize the Ryan plan and the rightwing media noise machine will tear you apart. Democrats hope that this will create two levels of losers -- Republican primary losers, who were spun out because of their unwillingness to get behind gutting Medicare, and the general election loser, who won the primary by being enthusiastic about it. If Medicare is the issue in 2012, Republicans stand no chance. And everyone but House Republicans seem to realize this.
So the main effort of early campaigning is to avoid mentioning Medicare at all. Case in point, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who is formally announcing his candidacy as I write. At a Tea Party rally in New Hampshire, ThinkProgress' Igor Volsky asked Pawlenty whether he supported cuts to Medicare. Pawlenty's answer?
"Anybody else have a question besides this guy?"
A profile in courage.
As the presidential campaign goes forward, these questions will be impossible to avoid. As Democrats hammer away at the candidates, supporters will as well. Do you stand with House Republicans and ideological purity or do you stand with the majority of Americans? Put another way, the question might be "do you want to win the primary or do you want to win the general election?" Clearly, one can't be accomplished without the other and one pretty much rules out the other, yet Republicans expect some candidate out there to do both.
It's a long, long time until election day, but the way things are looking right now, it's clearly Barack Obama's race to lose. House Republicans and Tea Party purists are making sure of that.