MEEK’S REPUBLICAN CHAMPIONS EMERGE…. It was always the scenario Republicans feared. The only development likely to prevent Marco Rubio (R) from winning Florida’s U.S. Senate race fairly easily is if Kendrick Meek (D) stepped aside, and his supporters shifted to Gov. Charlie Crist (I). And as we learned overnight, as of a week ago, that very nearly happened.

But now that the deal appears to have fallen through, Republicans have a new message: the entire effort is evidence of some kind of racism. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said in a statement:

“President Clinton’s actions to have Kendrick Meek withdraw from the campaign sends a chilling signal to all voters, but especially African Americans. One can only imagine the response if Republican leadership tried to force out of the race — in the 11th hour — a qualified black candidate like Kendrick Meek.”

I rather doubt anyone is actually supposed to take this seriously; it’s just too ridiculous on its face. The RNC may not have heard, but Bill Clinton tends to have a fair amount of credibility in many African American communities, and the idea that Clinton tried to broker a deal to prevent a far-right victory because of some kind of racial animus is pretty crazy, even for Michael Steele.

But it’s especially amusing to see Republicans push this line given the larger context. Steele may not have noticed, but this election season, it’s been hard to overlook the systemic Republican attempts to use identity politics to win elections. Steele conceded earlier this year that his party relied on a racially-divisive Southern Strategy for at least four decades. He neglected to mention that the party’s affinity for the approach never really went away.

The examples from just this cycle are too numerous to list, but it’s worth taking note of West Virginia’s John Raese’s attempts at ethnic “humor,” Nevada’s Sharron Angle’s racist TV ad followed by her telling Hispanic students they look Asian, New York’s Carl Paladino’s racist emails, Colorado’s Tom Tancredo’s call for a return to Jim Crow policies, Kentucky’s Rand Paul’s discomfort with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a variety of Republican House candidates who’ve embraced elements of white supremacism.

Also note that the Republican Party and its media outlets have spent much of the past several months obsessing over “controversies” with unmistakable undertones — Park51, the New Black Panther Party, Birther nonsense, talk of “liberation theology” — all of which seemed focused on scaring the bejesus out of white people in an election year.

But now the RNC would have African-American voters believe that Clinton and other Dems somehow treated Meek unfairly because of race. The irony is rich.

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.