NRCC STOPS MEASURING THE DRAPES…. For the last several months, congressional Republicans acted as if taking the majority of at least one chamber was practically a foregone conclusion. The question wasn’t whether the House GOP would be in the majority in 2011, but how big it would be.

Have you noticed the dramatic shift in rhetoric of late?

After spending months measuring the drapes in the Speaker’s office, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said this week it would be a “steep climb” for the GOP to take control of the House this year. A few months ago, NRCC Recruitment Chair Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he saw Republicans gaining 45 seats this year, enough to get the majority.

The message has obviously changed.

McCarthy said that top GOPers have told him they hope to win in the neighborhood of 37 seats rather than 40 so they’re in a stronger position to have good back-to-back cycles and win the WH in ’12.

I find that pretty hard to believe. For a leading NRCC congressman, it’s better not to get a House majority when the party thinks it has the wind at its back? Last month, NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said anything less than a majority is worth “a warm bucket of spit.” Now they’re looking to set the party up for gains in the following cycle? It’s not exactly persuasive.

Regardless, what’s behind this shift? Why would McCarthy use 45 seats as a benchmark a few months ago, and use 37 now? Some of it is no doubt an effort to play a rhetorical game. If the Republican base assumes a House takeover is in the bag, the party may grow complacent. The NRCC fundraising letter, then, is easy to envision: “We’re on track to win 37 seats, which is not quite enough for a majority, but if you write us a big check today….”

But I also wonder if some of the lowered expectations are the result of a rough spring for Republicans at the ballot box. The NRCC invested heavily in Tim Burns’ race in Pennsylvania’s 12th, and considered it a must-win. He lost by a quite a few. The NRCC was excited about Vaughn Ward in Idaho’s 1st, and he lost in a primary. The RNCC saw Jeff Reetz in Kentucky’s 3rd as a rising star, and he got beat in a primary, too. The NRCC had very high hopes about former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan in Pennsylvania’s 4th, but she not only lost in a primary, she lost by 34 points.

It raises questions about the NRCC’s judgment in picking candidates, not to mention whether NRCC support still means anything to voters.

But it also helps explain why party leaders have traded measuring the drapes for measured expectations.

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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.