Of all the reasons why Republicans scored big gains in the elections earlier this month, I’ll bet that you hadn’t considered laughingstock RNC chairman Michael Steele to be one of them.

But of course, that’s because you aren’t Michael Steele.  If you were, you’d think you were absolutely essential to the GOP wins (via TPMDC):

Steele has sent a letter … to the RNC’s voting members defending his tenure at the helm of the committee.  TPM obtained a copy of the memo that Steele sent today, in which he highlighted his efforts to reach out to the tea party and drive turnout by reaching out to the Republican grassroots….

Steele writes that his branch of the GOP “welcomed” insurgent candidates like Sen.-elect Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen.-elect Pat Toomey (R-PA), which the NRSC initially scoffed at before embracing as they shored up tea party support….

Steele fully embraced the tea party movement back in Dec. 2009, while many in the rest of the establishment were still trying to keep their chosen nominees from falling to tea party-backed candidates in Republican primaries. He carried on that outreach through the election, which he wrapped up with a 48-state bus tour that included appearances with tea party uberstar Sarah Palin.

To some extent, I guess Steele’s got a point about embracing the intellectually incoherent freaks conservative rebels within the GOP before the rest of the D.C. party establishment… and anyone who survived a cross-country trip in the company of Sarah Palin deserves some sort of acknowledgment for his troubles.

But really, how much applause does he deserve for getting a faction dominated by older Americans (the most reliable portion of the electorate) and just as well documented as overwhelmingly conservative to turn out and vote Republican?   Given the tea partiers’ equally documented ambivalence toward the (ahem) darker shades of the human flesh spectrum, I can’t help wondering if Steele’s presence on the Palin bus tour made more attendees feel squeamish than inspired.

In his memo, Steele also takes credit for the fact that”no party had ever suffered losses in successive cycles as catastrophic as the GOP did in 2006 and 2008 and came back to win a majority in the U.S. House or U.S. Senate in the next election.”

Personally, I think if a party screws the country up so badly that not only do they get punished heavily by voters in two straight elections, things stay so bad that the other party gets punished the next time around. . . well, that’s more a terrifying indictment of the state of our nation than something to brag about.  But I suppose that’s a post for another time.