A BRIEF HONEYMOON…. The NYT‘s Adam Nagourney reported today that the Republican Party, about a month shy of Barack Obama’s inauguration, haven’t quite figured out how best to play the role of the loyal opposition.

The president-elect is proving to be an elusive and frustrating target. He has defied attempts to be framed ideologically. His cabinet picks have won wide praise. An effort by the Republican National Committee to link Mr. Obama to the unfolding scandal involving Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois and the accusations that he tried to sell Mr. Obama’s Senate seat was dismissed by no less a figure than Senator John McCain, the Republican whom Mr. Obama beat for the presidency. […]

[T]his image of Republican uncertainty is a testimony to the political skills of the incoming president, and a reminder of just how difficult a situation the Republican Party is in. More than that, though, Republicans and Democrats say, it is evidence of the unusual place the country is in now: buoyed by prospect of an inauguration while at the same time deeply worried about the country’s future. It is going to be complicated making a case against Mr. Obama, many Republicans said, in an environment where people simply want him to succeed and may not have much of an appetite for partisan politics.

Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis, a leading candidate to lead the RNC, told the Times, “What you don’t want to be is the party that’s always attacking or being negative with no alternatives.” On his blog, Anuzis added, “Where necessary, we should stand for what is right and forcefully be the loyal opposition. But partisan politics in times like these for the sake of politics is not healthy.”

I have a strong hunch that Republicans will get over this feeling very quickly, sometime around mid-January.

Look, it’s exceedingly easy for Republican officials to say, the week of Christmas and a month before Obama takes the oath of office, they’re committed to playing a productive role in the future. But to think general comity will last is to ignore the warning signs that are already on the horizon, including petty wrangling over Eric Holder’s nomination and John Boehner’s online search for economists who might help provide a justification for opposition to Obama’s economic rescue plan.

Just as importantly, it also ignores everything we’ve seen from the party for about a generation. The modern Republican Party, shaped by Rove, Gingrich, Atwater, and DeLay, relies on a playbook with one page: attack. Even when it doesn’t serve the nation well, even when it doesn’t serve Republicans well, today’s GOP can’t seem to help itself.

“It is going to be complicated making a case against Mr. Obama”? Perhaps, but I’m sure they’ll think of something.

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.