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A quiet panic behind the scenes

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Rachel explained on the air last night that there are plenty of Republican congressional candidates who are suddenly going out of their way to remind voters they disagree with Paul Ryan on Medicare. It's a reminder that Republican activists are excited to see Ryan on the national ticket, but Republican officials are, well, pretty darn nervous.

How does one know for sure? There's one big hint: Republicans are dishing to reporters about the behind-the-scenes anxiety that appears to be bordering on panic.

Away from the cameras, and with all the usual assurances that people aren't being quoted by name, there is an unmistakable consensus among Republican operatives in Washington: Romney has taken a risk with Ryan that has only a modest chance of going right -- and a huge chance of going horribly wrong.

In more than three dozen interviews with Republican strategists and campaign operatives -- old hands and rising next-generation conservatives alike -- the most common reactions to Ryan ranged from gnawing apprehension to hair-on-fire anger that Romney has practically ceded the election. [...]

[T]he more pessimistic strategists don't even feign good cheer: They think the Ryan pick is a disaster for the GOP. Many of these people don't care that much about Romney -- they always felt he faced an improbable path to victory -- but are worried that Ryan's vocal views about overhauling Medicare will be a millstone for other GOP candidates in critical House and Senate races.

Note there are two parallel tracks to this. The first is the group of Republicans who suspect that Ryan will make it very difficult for Romney to win. The second is the group of Republicans who agree with the first group, but who also believe Ryan will hurt the party up and down the ballot.

At this point, just as the party is supposed to be coming together in advance of the national convention, both contingents are dishing to reporters about their discontent. There's some irony to this -- Romney picked Ryan to bring the party together. It's worked insofar as Republican activists and Republican media are delighted, but it's come up short to the extent that GOP candidates and their aides don't know how to run with the "kill Medicare" guy near the top of the ballot.

Indeed, job creation and economic growth -- the issues that were supposed to be at the center of the Republican message for the next 12 weeks -- have been pushed aside as the party deals with the Ryan-sized challenges Romney just dumped on the GOP.

One leading Republican consultant told Politico,"Very not helpful down ballot -- very." Another added, "The most popular phrase in Washington right now is: 'I love Paul Ryan, but...'"

The Hill had a very similar report that was published around the same time, focusing on the congressional aspect.

Republicans strategists are worried that Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) addition to the presidential ticket will cost their party House and Senate seats this fall.

Their concern: Democrats will successfully demonize Ryan's budget plan, which contains controversial spending cuts and changes to Medicare.

"There are a lot races that are close to the line we're not going to win now because they're going to battle out who's going to kill grandma first, ObamaCare or Paul Ryan's budget," said one Republican strategist who works on congressional races. "It could put the Senate out of reach. In the House it puts a bunch of races in play that would have otherwise been safe. ... It remains to be seen how much damage this causes, but my first blush is this is not good."

As part of the scramble to deal with the new, unexpected problems posed by a Romney-Ryan ticket, Republicans are quickly putting together new instructions for GOP candidates. Over the weekend, for example, the National Republican Congressional Committee told its candidates to stop using the words "entitlement reform," "privatization," and "every option is on the table," because it will only make it easier for Democrats to use Ryan against them.

At the same time, the NRCC has a video with suggested rhetoric for Republican candidates on how to combat Medicare criticisms.

Who knows, maybe this will work for the party. There are a lot of folks out there who are easily fooled, and telling them that Democrats, not Paul Ryan, are Medicare's real nemesis might succeed, even if the argument is ridiculous.

But what does it say about the Ryan selection on the merits if his party is furiously working on a damage-control strategy?