While it’s still far too early to say that Mitt Romney will definitely lose, the sense of doom is clearly descending over Boston’s North End, and Republicans, at least some of them, are pondering the consequences of losing to Barack Obama for a second time...
The other important thing to remember about the future of the GOP in the wake of a Romney loss is that it is likely to be even more dominated by its most conservative wing than it is now. Regardless of what happens with regard to control of the Senate, the Senate GOP Caucus will be losing people like Richard Lugar and Olympia Snowe and gaining people like Ted Cruz and, most likely, Jeff Flake. Additionally, a significant number of the Tea Party affiliated House freshman elected in 2010 are in generally safe Districts thanks to the fact that many of them defeated Democrats who were already considered conservative to begin with, and thanks to redistricting. Additionally, even if the GOP doesn’t get control of the Senate this time, there’s a better than even chance that they’ll be able to do it in 2014, and the organizations like the Club for Growth are already talking about their target seats for those elections. In other words, the levers of power in the GOP are going to be even more firmly in the hands of the Tea Party and its affiliated groups and their supporters. That seems to me to pretty much guarantee that the the GOP reaction to a loss on November 6th will be to move further to the right.
Daniel Larison seems to disagree that this is the most likely outcome:
One of the more common predictions of what will happen after a Romney loss is that Republicans will convince themselves that they will need a more ideological, more combative candidate in the next election. This could happen, but it seems doubtful for a few reasons. After their 1996 and 1998 losses, Republicans ended up supporting a relative moderate running on a “compassionate” conservative platform for their next nominee. The desire to defeat Gore and indirectly reject Clinton was great enough that winning the election was the most important thing. The same instinct could prevail in 2016. Instead of a more ideological candidate, Republicans might decide that what they need is a “pragmatic” nominee without the baggage of someone like Romney.
I suppose it’s possible, and I don’t doubt that we’ll see the money people who have been behind Romney try to push a Jeb Bush or a Chris Christie in 2016, but we’re not living in the late 1990s anymore. As I noted above, the conservatives are far more powerful inside the GOP than they were back then, and with the advent of the SuperPACs, the money advantages that the GOP’s traditional “big money” provide aren’t quite as big as they used to be. Moreover, after having Romney sold to them this time around I really don’t think the base is going to be quite as eager to accept another one of those pragmatic nominees again.