SEIZING ON BAD EXAMPLES…. I realize Republicans have had a very bad year, and under the circumstances, it’s understandable to look for — and exaggerate — any glimmers of electoral hope. But some of the arguments from GOP leaders over the last week have been pretty silly.

Last week, when Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss won a runoff election in a solidly Republican state, the Republican National Committee said the predictable victory was evidence of the GOP’s “momentum,” and proof that Barack Obama doesn’t have a mandate.

This week, the party is heralding Anh “Joseph” Cao’s upset over William Jefferson is New Orleans as evidence of … well, something good for the party. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), responding to the surprise win, believes there’s a lesson to be learned from this race.

In a memo to colleagues called “The Time is Cao,” Boehner says that Anh “Joseph” Cao’s win over Jefferson in a heavily Democratic district points the way out of the wilderness. The House GOP focus, he argues, ought to be ethics, ethics, ethics.

“The Future is Cao” reads the subject line of Boehner’s memo. “As House Republicans look ahead to the next two years, the Cao victory is a symbol of what can be achieved when we think big, present a positive alternative, and work aggressively to earn the trust of the American people,” offers Boehner.

Boehner argued that Cao won because he took “an aggressive stand against corruption.” That may be true, or perhaps he won because Jefferson is under criminal indictment, is on video accepting bribes, and had cash found in his freezer when FBI agents raided his home.

Boehner believes, “The Cao victory is a symbol of our future.” Really? Putting aside Cao’s professed moderation, which the GOP will likely disapprove of, exactly how many races in the future will feature largely unknown Republicans challenging indicted Democratic incumbents?

Republicans have the smallest House minority in nearly two decades, and the smallest Senate minority in nearly three decades. They got trounced in the presidential race, and are now easily outnumbered in the nation’s governorships. But they managed, with surprising difficulty, to hold on to a Senate seat in the deep South, while beating a scandal-plagued incumbent, currently under felony indictment, elsewhere in the deep South.

As silver linings go, this is rather thin.

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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.