THE REPUBLICANS’ TACTICAL MISTAKE?…. Noting last night’s developments in the Senate, when Republicans successfully killed a rescue package for U.S. auto manufacturers, MSNBC’s First Read heralded the GOP leadership’s tactical chops.

“It’s amazing how McConnell was able to run circles around Reid,” First Read noted, adding, “McConnell is proving to be a pretty smart minority leader, while Reid continues to get frustrated again.”

At first blush, this sounds about right. Senate Republicans, soon to go from 49 to 41 members, seemed quite adept yesterday at getting exactly what they wanted. In one of the final moves before the year ends, the caucus shrinks, and they have to deal with a Democratic president for a change, the Republican caucus killed the bill, attacked unions, punished the industry, and put the economy at risk. Mission accomplished.

But what was it, exactly, that was accomplished? If McConnell “ran circles” around Reid, what did the Minority Leader end up with?

Jonathan Chait noted that the White House is poised to bailout the automakers anyway, suggesting that the “GOP maneuver will have been a total disaster” for the party.

Remember, the Republicans have leverage because they still have 49 Senate seats and the auto companies need their loans right away. And, indeed, Republicans have used their leverage to force wage concessions and not force the auto companies to start producing low-emissions vehicles. But if they’ve overplayed their hand to the point where the White House floats a loan until January, then the GOP’s leverage will nearly collapse.

When the new Senate and White House convene, the Democrats will cut a much better deal for themselves, with fewer or no wage cuts for workers and tougher environmental standards.

Quite right. Republicans had a chance to make this bill as appealing as possible, but they wouldn’t take yes for an answer when Democrats said autoworkers would see their wages cut in 2011 instead of 2009. The GOP walked away from the deal and claimed victory.

Except, they haven’t really won anything. Detroit is going to get its money, Bush’s deal for the industry will be more favorable than Congress’, and in the new year, a stronger Democratic majority is going to craft a bill — that won’t undermine UAW at all — that Republicans are going to like even less.

Kevin asked, “[D]id the Senate Republicans really decide they didn’t care that they were giving up what little leverage they had? That they just wanted to make their point, and reality be damned? Are they really that nuts?”

I suspect they really are.

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.