GOP BACKS OFF REID…. By about this time yesterday, several leading Republicans — RNC Chairman Michael Steele, NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) — had called for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) ouster.

Now, however, the tide seems to be moving in the other direction.

Harry Reid is getting support from an unlikely corner of the Senate: one of the most conservative members of the Republican Conference, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Coburn, in a speech at the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the GOP shouldn’t focus on attacking Reid as majority leader…. “Washington plays a game of gotcha,” Coburn said, according to the Tulsa World. “It pains me that Republicans are saying Harry Reid ought to step down. When you point a finger, you have four fingers pointing back at you. There is not anybody in Washington who has not said something that could be judged inappropriate and wrong.”

This morning, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) defended Reid*, and by late yesterday, Reid’s fellow Nevadan, Sen. John Ensign (R), had done the same.

Now, the Machiavellian angle to this is that Republicans may be backing off because they want Reid to stick around — just long enough for them to defeat him in November. Or maybe Coburn, McCain, and Ensign are sincere.

Either way, barring additional details, it seems this story, such that it is, will likely wind down fairly quickly if Republicans are defending Reid against partisan criticism.

* Update: I’ve seen since the transcript of McCain’s comments, and it’s worth emphasizing that while he defended Reid personally, he nevertheless argued that he sees “a stunning double standard” between the Reid story and the Trent Lott fiasco from 2002. McCain, in other words, is still playing the role of silly hack, even while making clear that Harry Reid is not a racist.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

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.