Republicans were taken aback and frankly, had not anticipated, the Mediscare barrage from the Democrats opposing the Medicare reform plan of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). As one GOP official put it, “It’s clear that the Democrats are lying about Medicare, but Democrats will never let the truth get in the way of trying to shamelessly scare seniors.” Nevertheless, Republicans have made considerable progress in the past few days in counter-punching on the Democrats’ Mediscare blitz.

A number of separate, neutral fact-checking groups have lambasted the Dems for misleading the public on Ryan’s Medicare reform plan. The Post’s Glenn Kessler likewise dissected the misrepresentations. The Associated Press is the latest to weigh in:

Democrats are distorting the fundamentals of a Republican plan to reshape Medicare, falsely accusing the GOP of pushing a proposal that tells the elderly “you’re on your own” with health care and that lets insurers deny coverage to the sick.

Medicare always pushes hot buttons with voters. Both parties know this and spare no effort to exploit the issue, with truth as the frequent casualty. That’s the case now as Democrats go after a far-reaching plan introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and largely embraced by congressional Republicans.

The new chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., led the charge this week in an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” The DNC and its Republican counterpart are the primary money-raisers in politics and often temples of exaggeration as they convert controversy into cash for the campaigns.

And then yesterday, Ryan made headlines by confronting the president on his demagoguery on Medicare.

The Democrats may have overstepped and then grown over-confident on this one. The ability of the Republicans to push back, and to begin to get the facts out is impressive. Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) told me this morning: “We’re making progress, and we know the truth is on our side — but everyone is going to have to keep working hard to make sure the American people know that we have a plan to preserve and protect Medicare, while Democrats’ insistence on the status quo will mean bankruptcy and steep benefit cuts.”

Other Republicans echo the caution. As one Capitol Hill Republican put it, “It’s clear to those paying close attention that the Medicare debate is one between facts vs. fear, leadership vs. demagoguery, saving Medicare vs. Mediscare. But most folks don’t have Politifact bookmarked on their browser. The battle to save Medicare has just began, the Left quickly took the low road, and likely (hopefully) overreached too early.”

Those Republicans (largely pundits and cowering “insiders”) who have called for a Republican retreat will no doubt be cheering the latest developments. The best messenger, so far, has been Ryan himself. But now that the debates have been joined, why not a series of debates, Lincoln-Douglas style? It’s a no-brainer that Ryan would be the standard-bearer for the Republicans. But which Democrat would be willing to take him on? Few, I suspect, since their talking points have shriveled after only a few days of intense scrutiny.