Until yesterday, media managers at the Democratic National Committee barely issued an official word about Herman Cain: They were too focused on other GOP presidential hopefuls, like Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich. Last week, the DNC issued more than 25 media alerts attacking GOP frontrunners and not one mentioned Cain.

Then, Cain praised the Paul Ryan budget on “Fox and Friends.”

“I support Ryan’s plan one hundred percent,” Cain said.”We don’t need to come up with another plan.” The DNC just couldn’t have that:

The DNC took issue with his comments and sent out a round up of criticism on the GOP’s budget plan, including threats that it would end [M]edicare, favors the rich, and would increase the debt. …

DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan told TheDC that they want to hold Republican candidates accountable, including Cain.

“We fact-check anyone who misstates the facts or misleads the American people about their own or the president’s record,” he said of the DNC’s “Rapid Response” against Cain.

Cain spokeswoman Ellen Carmichael told The Daily Caller she sees the attention as a hopeful sign, suggesting it means the DNC considers Cain a contender. Conservative commentary from Charles Krauthammer and others aside, Cain is undoubtedly a competitor: Yesterday’s Gallup poll showed him ahead of Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman, and he has, of course, enjoyed a surge of popularity among Hot Air readers, as well.

But, to me, the DNC reaction to Cain’s quote reveals something more than the candidate’s potential. It also hints at the total vigilance with which opponents will demonize the only serious budget plan presently on the table. As a strategy, that makes sense because, so far, it’s proved effective. Whether GOP candidates speak highly of or, in Gingrich’s case, foolishly of “the Ryan budget,” they can’t say those three words without igniting a firestorm. The DNC response to Cain is yet more evidence that Republican presidential hopefuls will have to learn to talk about the House plan in a compelling way.

The Washington Examiner’s Phillip Klein points out a way to do that:

As important as it is to educate the public about the dire future that awaits us if we do nothing to rein in these entitlement programs, that won’t be enough.  … So if Republicans are going to win this debate, it can’t become a contest between Democrats, saying, “Republicans will destroy Medicare,” and Republicans countering with a 75-year actuarial chart.

Thus, the GOP argument should be: “Both sides have proposed ways to save money on Medicare. President Obama wants to have 15 Washington bureaucrats decide how best to spend Medicare dollars, but Republicans believe individuals should be given the money directly so they can choose how they want to spend it.”

This would accomplish two things. First, it doesn’t let Democrats get away with pretending that maintaining the current generous Medicare benefits is an option (remember, most of them voted for the IPAB as part of Obamacare). And second, it forces Americans to confront the choices before them now, instead of decades from now, when the solutions will be much more painful.

A couple days ago, I said political pandering would beat out the truth only if candidates fail to make the truth clear or if voters don’t have the courage to accept it. Ryan has done a great job with the charts. He’s explained the facts. But GOP candidates will have to appropriate those facts for themselves. They’ll have to learn to make those facts relatable — and be totally prepared to hear from the DNC when they do.