Not the first time she’s defended him, but it’s even more mystifying now than it was then. What does she gain by doing this? Are they friends, or is she really so invested in the idea of “outsiders” playing a role that she’s willing to say something like, “I am glad that he is the leader of the party administratively”? Administratively? Really? I can’t remember a time when I’ve wished harder for an insider at the top of the party than in the past few weeks. The only theory I can come up with is that she’s so keen on building her own “outsider” brand that she’s willing to take the side of any Republican under fire from the party’s establishment. And I do mean any:

Steele’s travails appear to have reached a tipping point. Conversations the past few days with Republicans suggest that whatever confidence remained in Steele’s capacity to be an effective chairman has eroded significantly. “It’s tipped over his ability to be relevant and helpful,” said Scott Reed, a former chief of staff at the RNC and Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign manager…

A former top official at the committee said the focus on Steele’s management “reinforces a negative stereotype” about whether Republicans are capable of governing and managing. That hurt the party badly in 2006 and some Republicans fear it could again. A current member of the committee complained, “This goes back to harbingers of Katrina, mismanagement and all that stuff.”

It would make sense for her to do this if there were a sharp establishment/grassroots split over Steele but he’s alienated the latter with his racial defenses to public criticism, to the point where we’re now seeing pieces like this popping up. In fact, one of the most compelling arguments for keeping him on at this point is that no one’s sure he won’t go dumping on the party in lefty media outlets if he were removed:

Even Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s harshest critics agree that pushing him out before his tenure is up would be a PR nightmare — saying that even though he may deserve the boot, they fear he’d get so much media attention they’d never hear the last of him.

“If he were thrown overboard you can guarantee he’d be out there slamming a lot of people and saying a lot of things. It’s best to let this one simmer down,” said a top Republican strategist who works with the RNC.

In the long run, one of his biggest achievements as chairman may be getting people to revisit the question of why we need national committees in the first place. They’re a useful reservoir for low-information voters who want to donate to Republicans but don’t have time to sort through lists of candidates and 527s to find the right one, but the more people start using the Internet as a political tool, the less necessary that reservoir is. Which brings me back to my question: Why are Palin (and Coulter!) still so high on Steele? Any theories?