The above ad against House Republican freshman Chip Cravaack represents new avenues in corporate branding, with what amounts to product placement for Chevy in a political ad. But putting aside the hit that Cravaack has a taxpayer-funded SUV, the ad from House Majority PAC against him and close to a dozen other Republicans highlight that key weakness for the GOP headed into 2012 – their vote for the Paul Ryan budget that ends Medicare. You know this is a difficult subject for Republicans when the venerable James Sensenbrenner, a colleague of Ryan’s from Wisconsin who represents the neighboring district, distances himself from the plan:

Sensenbrenner was pressed by a 54-year-old constituent, who would lose the guaranteed coverage offered by Medicare under the plan put forward by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and instead be required to purchase private insurance with a government voucher.

“If it’s good enough for the people 54 and younger … then I think it’s good enough for people 55 and older,” said the constituent, who Patch identified as Paul Race, a former Marine and a teacher of 25 years.

Sensenbrenner declined to back Ryan’s plan on Sunday, backtracking from his earlier support of the proposal. “I’m not here to say he’s right or he’s wrong, but at least he’s got a plan,” he told the town hall. But when the same Medicare-altering proposal came before the house in April, Sensenbrenner voted to support it.

Exactly. Sensenbrenner and his colleagues can run from the Ryan budget all they want (and here’s another one doing the same thing), but they all voted for it. So the wise moderation really won’t fly.

Unless… Democrats and Republicans come to a deal which includes benefit cuts to Medicare, or anything that can be even marginally spun that way. This is why Republicans are so desperate to include that in a deal. They want to inoculate themselves from the kind of criticism you see in the ad above.

If a deal included something like allowing Medicare to bargain for prescription drugs, or reforming dual eligibles, that would probably not be enough to compromise the Democratic election strategy. But anything beyond that, particularly increases in cost sharing, would have very detrimental effects, and would amount to a get out of jail free card for Republicans.