Since I was critical of Tim Pawlenty earlier for dodging four days worth of questions about the House Republican budget plan, it’s only fair to note that he finally got off the fence this afternoon.

After facing criticism in recent days for sidestepping the issue, Tim Pawlenty today in New Hampshire said if he were president and Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal came to his desk, he would sign it. […]

As Pawlenty said yesterday in Washington and reiterated today in New Hampshire, he is planning to release his own budget proposal, with key differences from Ryan’s plan on how to handle Medicare, sometime in the coming months.

After praising Ryan’s “courage and his leadership,” which is itself a bizarre notion, Pawlenty said, “[I]f I can’t have my own plan — as president, I’ll have my own plan — if I can’t have that, and the bill came to my desk and I had to choose between signing or not Congressman Ryan’s plan, of course I would sign it.”

Pawlenty probably didn’t have much of a choice here. He couldn’t dodge the question indefinitely — the more he dissembled, the more he was pressed for a straight answer — and Pawlenty no doubt saw what happened to Gingrich when he tried to distance himself from the radical House Republican plan.

Regardless, it’s hard to overstate how happy Democrats are about this. They tend to look for answers to “the Paul Ryan question” the way baseball-card collectors look at a 1911 Honus Wagner — a valuable gem that will go up in value over time.

It’s ironic, in a way, that Pawlenty, like his GOP rivals, is making Democrats and his party’s right-wing base happy at the same time. The Tea Party crowd has come to see this as a litmus-test issue, and will be satisfied with Pawlenty’s (grudging) answer, while Dems have come to see this as a general election deal-breaker — mainstream voters just won’t tolerate ending Medicare and replacing it with a privatized voucher scheme.

Pawlenty can’t win during the primaries without taking the right-wing line, and will struggle to win in the general election after taking the right-wing line.

Nice job, House Republicans.

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.