Paul Ryan spent his first day as a Vice Presidential candidate watching his counterpart on the ticket disavow a plan he spent years generating. This is from a set of talking points distributed to GOP surrogates:

1) Does this mean Mitt Romney is adopting the Paul Ryan plan?

· Gov. Romney applauds Paul Ryan for going in the right direction with his budget, and as president he will be putting together his own plan for cutting the deficit and putting the budget on a path to balance.

· Romney’s administration will go through the budget line by line and ask two questions: Can we afford it? And, if not, should we borrow money from China to pay for it?

· Mitt Romney will start with the easiest cut of all: Obamacare, a trillion-dollar entitlement we don’t want and can’t afford.

· Mitt Romney also laid out commonsense reforms that will make good on our promises to today’s seniors and save Social Security and Medicare for future generations.

So Romney continues to offer the vaguest of ideas about these policies, while attempting to spin away from Ryan’s clearly-articulated vision. Romney had previously supported the Ryan plan much more fervently than this. Also, it calls into question how Ryan will react. As Vice President, he would apparently have less control over the shape of the budget than as House Budget Committee chair.

This isn’t really going to work, by the way. I must have received 100 emails today from Democratic surrogates, House candidates, Senate candidates, party committees, and the President’s campaign, all with the exact same message about how the Ryan plan would end Medicare as we know it. We know that this is going to be what Democrats try to pin on Romney and Ryan, as they have planned for some time. They will run against the Ryan budget and that vision of tax cuts for the rich, increases for the middle class and the poor, and collapsing of social insurance programs.

But we know that the actual debate is not the wide gulf that Democrats will make it out to be, and that leads us to the other Republican parry:

3) Do you worry that Paul Ryan’s controversial Medicare plan will hurt the campaign with independents?

No. President Obama is the one who should be worried, because he has cut $700 BILLION from Medicare to pay for Obamacare, and put in place a panel of Washington bureaucrats to make decisions about what kind of care seniors will receive under Medicare. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have a bipartisan plan to strengthen Medicare by giving future seniors the choice between traditional Medicare and a variety of private plans. They are committed to ensuring that Medicare remains strong, not just for today’s seniors, but for tomorrow’s seniors as well.

Both Romney and Ryan cited this exact statistic in their speeches today. I’m so old I can remember when it was only $500 billion in Medicare cuts. And I thought inflation was still low! (Apparently CBO modified their analysis from $500 billion to $700 billion last month.)

Medicare was the Republican path to victory in 2010. They used those $500 billion in cuts, which were mostly cuts to overpayments to industry stakeholders and the Medicare Advantage boondoggle, to great advantage in local races. Paul Ryan in particular is a terrible messenger for this decrying of Medicare cuts, however, since his 2012 budget kept the Medicare cuts intact, the same budget that almost every House Republican voted for. The one time I ever saw him questioned about this he claimed that the Medicare cuts keep the money for Medicare, something which seems to bend the laws of physics, but I’m sure he can explain that again slowly. Ryan has always been a bit of a phony, and his numbers never pencil out.

But that’s kind of beside the point. Republicans will try to claim, again, that Democrats are the ones who cut Medicare. And this worked the first time. The fact that the leader of the Democratic Party is on the record wanting credit for being willing to cut Medicare helps along the GOP case. And it shows how this “great debate” is really a half-debate, with everything to the left of the late David Broder’s sensibility marginalized.