Congressional Republicans aren't admitting it, but they are nervous as hell about Paul Ryan being the party's VP nominee.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's selection of Ryan derails the attempt by Republicans in the House to keep their vote to end Medicare quiet, making that vote one of the very things the election will be all about. Polls show 79 percent of Americans oppose any changes in the nature of the program and also oppose any cuts in Medicare.
House Speaker John Boehner said there were "safer" choices that Romney could have made. Another GOP pro said to Politico, "This could be the defining moment of the campaign. If [the Republicans] win the battle to define Medicare, then I believe Romney wins the presidency. If they lose it, then they lose big in the fall."
Former Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., who chaired the National Republican Campaign Committee from 2003-2006, warned that the choice of Ryan made this election similar to the one in 2006, which cost the GOP control of the House. That disaster for Republicans followed an attempt by Bush to create a voucher program for Social Security.
"You saw what happened to George Bush with Social Security in the 2006 election," he said. "This is déjà vu."
GOP nervousness over the Ryan pick extends to the Senate too.
The Hill quotes another Republican strategist who said: "It could put the Senate out of reach. In the House it puts a bunch of races in play that could have otherwise been safe. It remains to be seen how much damage this causes but my first blush is this is not good."
Already Republicans in competitive Senate races are distancing themselves from Ryan's stand on Medicare, even the conservative George Allen, who is running for the open Senate seat in Virginia.
"This is the day that the music dies," said a Republican strategist involved in 2012 House races after the announcement of the Ryan pick. The operative said that every House candidate is now racing to get ahead of the Medicare issue.
Republicans have been trying to make the election a referendum on what they describe as President Barack Obama's failures, while Obama and Democrats have pointed out that the election is a choice about two very different views of the future.
The selection of Ryan allows the Democrats to define the nature of the election, according to a Republican lawyer in Washington. "It turned a referendum into a choice," he said.
"Choosing Ryan forfeited the no-real-world-experience point Romney has been building up for months about Obama and put a new state, Florida, in play that was otherwise trending his way," the lawyer told Politico.
While Republicans are lamenting the Ryan pick takes attention away from the economy and jobs and shifts it to issues like Medicare, Democrats say the Ryan pick wouldn't help them with a sharper focus on unemployment, either.
Ari Berman at the Nation noted just yesterday "the most disturbing feature of the Ryan budget is that, in the midst of a prolonged recession, it would cost the U.S. economy millions of jobs."
In contrast, the jobs plan introduced by Obama last September (which the GOP-controlled House refuses to pass) would create 1.9 million jobs and reduce the unemployment rate by a full percentage point, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's.
Photo: The selection of Paul Ryan makes it harder for the Republican House to keep quiet about the fact that it approved the Ryan budget, which cuts health care. John Bachtell/PW