The Wall Street Journal had an interesting report the other day on the congressional fight over extending the payroll tax cut through 2012. Democrats were quoted as saying they feel like they have the advantage in this debate — they’re the ones fighting for a middle-class tax break — but one Republican said something in response that stood out for me.

Terry Holt, a former House GOP aide who is close to Mr. Boehner, said any perceived political advantage is superficial, compared to the way Democrats have lost ground on spending issues over the past year.

“Democrats are trying to put the best face on a very bad year for them,” Mr. Holt said. “This year belongs to the Republicans.” [emphasis added]

Holt apparently looks back at the nearly-completed year and believes it’s been a good one.

He’s not alone. National Journal published the results of its latest Congressional Insiders Poll yesterday, and one of this week’s questions was, “What grade (A+ through F) would you give the first year of the 112th Congress?” Republicans were fairly impressed — a 39% plurality gave this Congress so far a B, and 28% gave it a C. While 66% of Democrats gave it an F, only 6% of Republicans felt the same way.

To my mind, this Congress is proving to be one of the worst — most destructive, most negligent, most dysfunctional — in the history of the country, but for Republicans, there’s a sense that 2011 wasn’t that bad. Indeed, a month ago, none other than House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) defended his institution, saying it’s his job to make Congress work, “and it is working.”

I wonder what the weather is like in the GOP’s reality.

Look, some of the questions are subjective, but if Republicans can look back at the last calendar year and feel a sense of pride, the obvious question is what exactly they hoped to get out of 2011.

The year has been so miserable, it’s tough to imagine what the GOP finds satisfying. Republicans’ approval rating dropped to levels unseen since Watergate; Congress’ approval rating dropped to a level unseen since the dawn of modern polling. Republicans held the full faith and credit of the United States hostage, on purpose, and caused the first-ever downgrade of the nation’s debt. Neither party has been able to pass any of its major legislative priorities, and thanks to Republican intransigence, compromise between the parties has become a laughable pipedream.

At the same time, the Republican presidential nominating race has become farcical, with random cranks, clowns, and charlatans taking turns as ostensible frontrunners, hoping to serve as the main primary challenger to a core-free, flip-flopping coward who lies with discomforting ease. The more Americans see of the GOP field, the more they recoil.

This isn’t to say that the year has been awful for everyone. The domestic economy and job creation have steadily improved; the United States has scored some major counter-terrorism and foreign policy victories; the American auto industry is starting to flourish after nearly collapsing in 2009; and we saw the formal end of misguided policies like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

But the year’s best news invariably resulted from developments that Congress couldn’t screw up and Republicans had nothing to do with.

“This year belongs to the Republicans”? Unless nihilism was the goal — and perhaps it was — I hope the GOP kept the receipt.

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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.