Bret Stephens has already started blaming the fantasy candidates for losing the election:
Finally, there are the men not in the field: Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Haley Barbour. This was the GOP A-Team, the guys who should have showed up to the first debate but didn’t because running for president is hard and the spouses were reluctant. Nothing commends them for it. If this election is as important as they all say it is, they had a duty to step up. Abraham Lincoln did not shy from the contest of 1860 because of Mary Todd. If Mr. Obama wins in November—or, rather, when he does—the failure will lie as heavily on their shoulders as it will with the nominee.
If this was the “A-Team,” Republicans were always in a lot more trouble in this election than anyone realized. There’s no reason to think that any of these men would have fared any better in this cycle. I don’t know that any of these men have said that this election is unusually important. If they did, it doesn’t follow that one of them was the answer to Republican prayers. It is possible that the importance attached to the election was one of the things that discouraged them. All of them except for Bush tested the waters, and all of them concluded that it was a bad idea or the wrong time. These happen to be the fantasy candidates that pundits settled on last year. All of them likely would have struggled the same way that most first-time presidential candidates do, and the Bush years are still too recent to have another Bush at the top of a Republican ticket.
They didn’t have a duty to launch presidential bids. Had one or more of them done so, there would have been yet another conservative challenger to split the voters that won’t support Romney. Republicans not enamored of Romney should be grateful to the non-candidates for staying out. Their entry would have probably made Romney’s nomination more certain. It isn’t their fault that the rest of the field dropped out and put Gingrich in his current position. To believe that the fantasy candidates are responsible for an Obama victory in the fall, one has to assume that one of them would have been capable of defeating him in the general election. I don’t see how any of them would be able to do that, but it would be refreshing to see someone make an argument to that effect instead of constantly asserting that the best Republican candidates have abandoned their party in its hour of need.