Watching congressional Republicans stumble their way around the land mines of a debt limit increase and an immigration reform dilemma, it’s hard not to lose respect for their political skills. But looking at the objective advantages they enjoy in the election cycle that concludes this fall, you also have to wonder if their fecklessness is born of over-confidence rather than sheer incompetence. In any event, the contrast between GOP expectations and execution is the subject of my weekly column over at TPMCafe.

While my theme is that Republican congressional leaders are “bad poker players” who are in danger of throwing away a winning hand, the enduring point here is that the 2014 cycle is going to be an interesting experiment in the relative importance of the context and content of political campaigns. The landscape presently couldn’t look much better for Republicans; it would take an insanely strange tsunami for them to lose the House; nearly all the states that will determine control of the Senate are red; there are few if any signs the economy is going to come roaring back before November; and unless Democrats achieve a truly historic breakthrough in GOTV efforts, the midterm falloff problem is just a killer for them. 2016 is another matter altogether, but for now, unless there’s a big economic improvement, the GOP is entitled to some serious optimism heading towards November.

Yet they are off to a terrible start between the fecklessness of their congressional leaders and the multiplication of primary fights (particularly in Senate races). Can they screw up a winning hand? That could be the big political question for this year.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.