TROUBLE AT RNC HQ…. Publicly, Republican leaders seem optimistic about their future and believe they’re due for an electoral rebound. Privately, all is not well at the Republican National Committee headquarters.

Some wealthy contributors are shunning the Republican National Committee and donating instead to the other GOP campaign committees or directly to candidates — in many cases because of discontent with the leadership of Michael S. Steele, the party’s national chairman.

“I don’t plan to give to the Republican National Committee this cycle, and no other major donor I know is planning to either,” Christine Toretti, a Pennsylvania RNC member and a longtime major donor to the RNC and other GOP campaign committees and causes, told The Washington Times. […]

Lawrence Bathgate, who served a record three times as RNC finance chairman during and after the Reagan era, told The Times, “No, I haven’t given to the RNC this cycle.”

Looking back over the last year, Republican officials have raised all kinds of concerns about Steele’s management: his reckless spending, his odd personnel decisions, his willingness to address policy matters that actual Republican lawmakers wanted him to remain silent on, his tendency to use his position to line his own pockets, his habit of making humiliating gaffes, etc.

But the RNC, which is accustomed to robust fundraising, is getting hit where it hurts, entirely because some of the RNC’s top donors lack confidence in the party’s chairman.

The discontent has not gone unnoticed by Steele.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele is lashing out his critics, with a series of blunt messages for prominent Republicans who have blasted him over his leadership for the Republican Party.

“I tell them to get a life. That’s old Washington, that’s old ways, and I don’t represent that, and that kills them,” Steele told ABC News Radio in an interview today.

“I’m telling them and I’m looking them in the eye and say I’ve had enough of it. If you don’t want me in the job, fire me. But until then, shut up. Get with the program or get out of the way.”

Steele’s defensiveness tells us something significant — this has gone beyond just behind-the-scenes sniping. The chairman of a major political party doesn’t usually tell the skeptics within his party to “shut up” and “get a life” unless he’s feeling quite a bit of heat.

My suspicion is that unsatisfied Republicans won’t appreciate the “get with the program or get out of the way” sentiment, and Steele’s troubles are poised to get worse.

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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.