STEELE STILL MANAGES TO SURPRISE…. When the DNC seems absolutely delighted to see the RNC chairman seek a second term, it’s probably a bad sign.

In the face of overwhelming criticism about his stewardship of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, the party chairman, declared Monday evening that he had no intentions of quietly stepping aside and vowed to seek re-election to lead the party into the 2012 presidential campaign.

Mr. Steele made the announcement in a conference call with members of the Republican committee, some of whom have already pledged their support to one of the half-dozen candidates vying to replace him. He did not take questions in the 40-minute call or address many of the challenges facing his candidacy, including the financial management of the committee that is ending the year $15 million in debt.

“Yes, I have stumbled along the way but have always accounted to you for such shortcomings,” Mr. Steele said, according to participants on the call, who later received a prepared statement. “No excuses. No lies. No hidden agenda.”

All available evidence suggested Steele knew better, and would gracefully step aside. It’s why many part officials were stunned and dismayed by last night’s announcement — they were counting on this reign of error to finally come to an end.

To be sure, it still might. Just because Steele will seek another two-year term is hardly a guarantee that RNC members will actually give him one. In fact, it’s hard to keep up with all of the party officials who will challenge his bid.

But the fact that Steele would even try to keep his job raises legitimate questions about his connection to reality. Steele hasn’t just been an awful party chairman — arguably the worst in either party in modern times — but he’s also become a laughingstock. The near-constant gaffes are humiliating enough, but even more striking is the mismanagement, weak fundraising, questionable spending, massive debts, hemorrhaging of staff and low morale, and strained ties between the chairman, party leaders on the Hill, and state affiliates. At times, Steele has appeared willing to use his position only to enrich himself.

Indeed, it’s not a coincidence that major party figures have already endorsed other candidates for RNC chair, hoping to make clear that they don’t want Steele sticking around.

In fairness, Steele will no doubt point to the significant party gains in the midterm elections, and it’s true that the GOP fared extremely well this year. But under the circumstances, those gains appear to have come despite Steele’s shocking incompetence, not because he displayed any wisdom or leadership skills.

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.