WHY WOULD THE GOP TAKE BP’S SIDE?…. By any reasonable standard, things went pretty well at the White House meeting yesterday with BP executives. President Obama came into the meeting, and told BP how it was going to be — and BP caved rather quickly.

The result was a $20 billion pot of money that will bring much-needed help to a devastated region. As one report noted, “The figure is not a cap on the potential damages, and the company received no liability waiver as part of the agreement.” BP also scrapped this year’s dividends payments, and agreed to set aside an additional $100 million to support unemployed oil industry employees.

It seems praise for the president isn’t especially common right now, but for Obama, this was no small feat — he got what he wanted, and gave up nothing. As one lawyer explained, “[The president] had no actual power to compel that aside from moral suasion and the threat of having an unhappy president. Legally, BP could have just waited for the lawsuits and drawn the whole thing out for years. As a lawyer, I find it a unique and mind-boggling accomplishment.”

So, good news for the country, right? If only Republicans saw it that way.

The Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative members of the House, released a statement today calling the $20 billion BP escrow account a “Chicago-style political shakedown.”

“BP’s reported willingness to go along with the White House’s new fund suggests that the Obama Administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics, wrote chairman Tom Price (R-GA). “These actions are emblematic of a politicization of our economy that has been borne out of this Administration’s drive for greater power and control.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called the escrow “a redistribution-of-wealth fund” that could serve as a “gateway” for “more money to government.” A variety of right-wing media personalities — Limbaugh, Hannity, and Oliver North — all read from identical talking points, calling the independently-operated escrow account “a slush fund.”

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) continues to whine about the money set aside for the Gulf Coast, inexplicably telling the AP, “If they take a huge amount of money and put it in an escrow account so they can’t use it to drill oil wells and produce revenue, are they going to be able to pay us?”

I find all of this rather bewildering. Given the nature of the crisis, it stood to reason that politicians would be tripping over each other to appear “tougher” on BP than the next guy. What elected official in his/her right mind would want to side with the oil giant responsible for the worst environmental catastrophe in American history? Apparently, we’re getting a clearer picture of the answer.

I don’t think Republicans have thought through the politics of this. If they don’t want to praise the Obama White House for its success with BP yesterday, fine. But the GOP is approaching the point at which Dems will reasonably be able to argue that Republicans are siding with BP over the country.

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.