OWNING THE ‘ROADMAP’…. When congressional Republicans tapped House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to delivered the GOP’s response to the State of the Union, it probably struck the party as an uncontroversial move. The Wisconsin Republican is a mild-mannered lawmaker, adored by the media, who’ll very likely avoid the Jindal-like embarrassment we saw two years ago.

But Ryan’s selection carries a broader significance. He is, after all, the architect of a very radical budget “roadmap,” and the more Republican leaders rally behind Ryan, the more they take ownership of his extremist blueprint.

Indeed, this morning, the perpetually-confused, House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said on “Meet the Press” that “the direction in which the roadmap goes is something we need to embrace.”

The wording of that endorsement is obviously pretty awkward, but the sentiment is unmistakable. This strikes me as pretty important — before the midterm elections, Eric Cantor notably refused to endorse Paul Ryan’s roadmap. Now he thinks the budget blueprint is “something we need to embrace.”

Ezra Klein noted the larger dangers the other day.

…The more they elevate Ryan, the more they elevate Ryan’s Roadmap. And that document is a timebomb for them: It doesn’t just privatize Medicare, but it holds costs down by giving seniors checks that won’t keep up with the price of health care. It privatizes much of Social Security. It cuts taxes on the rich while raising them on many in the middle class. […]

Putting Ryan up as the face of the party suggests they know how important it is to seem like they have a plan. Without one, however, they’re going to end up answering for his.

Ezra wrote this on Friday, before Cantor told a national television audience he agreed with the “direction” of Ryan’s radical plan.

In other words, we’re entering the phase in which Republicans are no longer able to credibly distance themselves from Ryan’s roadmap, and they’re apparently prepared to stop even trying.

For Democrats, that’s actually excellent news. For the better part of two years, the GOP hasn’t offered Dems anything but vague targets to criticize, because Republicans didn’t have a policy agenda with any meat on the bones. If, as Cantor sees it, it’s time for his party to “embrace” the roadmap, then it changes the conversation.

And what a conversation it is. Every fair-minded analysis makes clear that Ryan’s roadmap is a right-wing fantasy, slashing taxes on the rich while raising taxes for everyone else. The plan calls for privatizing Social Security and gutting Medicare, and fails miserably in its intended goal — cutting the deficit. As Paul Krugman explained, the Ryan plan “is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America’s fiscal future.”

When Republican candidates embrace this plan to radically transform governmental institutions and Americans’ way of life, they’re endorsing a Republican vision of governing more extreme than anything we’ve seen in the modern political era.

And as of this morning, the House Majority Leader believes it’s a vision the Republican Party needs “needs to embrace.”

Let the debate begin. It’s one the GOP will lose, whether Cantor realizes it or not.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.