The New York Times has figured out that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is a big deal in the Republican Party. (Next up: Republicans favor limited government!). The Times declares that “Mr. Ryan, 42, of Wisconsin, has become perhaps the most influential policy maker in the Republican Party, its de facto head of economic policy, intent on a fundamental transformation of the federal government.”

It has been eighteen months since he responded to the president’s State of the Union address. It’s been over a year since Ryan introduced and helped pass his first budget (including the first serious Medicare reform proposal) and engaged the president on entitlement reform. It’s been months since a series of major addresses on everything from healthcare reform to the president’s style of divisive politics to foreign policy. But good for the Gray Lady to stay on top of things, now that he’s an obvious candidate for VP.

Ryan’s entitlement and budget reforms have essentially been adopted hook-line-and-sinker by the Romney campaign, as most of us covering the Republican campaign figured out last year. The Times doesn’t mention he was strenuously encouraged by conservatives to run for president.

I point this out not to point out how clueless and skimpy is the Times’ coverage of the Republican race — thoughh it certainly is that — but to emphasize how lame is the attempt by the left and the White House specifically to demonize a guy who is barely known to a lot of Americans. (Sorry, Paul.)

Aside from the fact he’s intensely “normal” and likeable, unlike the easily demonized former House speaker New Gingrich, it’s pretty hard to accuse a budget chairman of being the evil wizard behind the Republican Party. (It is for this reason that the Romney camp shouldn’t worry that Ryan would be too much of a lightning rod as a VP pick.)

It’s actually pretty much on a par with the effort to demonize the Koch brothers; the average voters hasn’t the foggiest who they are or what they have to do with Mitt Romney (nothing, by the way).

The effort to make Ryan a bogeyman is hindered by the mixed message coming out of the spin machine. Did he only offer “broad brush strokes” on his tax plan (formulating the details of tax plans, by the way, is the Ways and Means Committee’s job) or is he giving millions away n tax breaks to the rich as some left-leaning pundits insist? It’s sort of hard to be both noncommittal and Simon Legree.