Michael Brendan Dougherty makes a familiar argument:

Everyone will take what they want from a Romney defeat.

That’s right. As I have said before, Romney’s campaign has been mostly about nothing, which allows everyone to define a Romney defeat as they see fit. That always happens after election defeats to some extent, but Romney has provided a little bit of fodder for almost everyone’s recriminations. If the Romney campaign has assumed that the key to success was in mobilizing turnout of the party base, they do not seem to have done a particularly good job of doing this. For many of these voters, Romney inspires no confidence, and he is relying almost entirely on the dread these voters feel when contemplating a second Obama term.

Romney has been closer to restrictionists on immigration than any recent Republican nominee, but at the same time he has had almost nothing to say about the subject since the general election started. While social conservatives and pro-life activists now seem to be as supportive of the Republican ticket as they usually are, Romney has offered them only the most limited lip service in the last few months. On foreign policy, he has remained quite hawkish even during the general election, but he is also out of his depth on these issues and lacking in experience, so different factions could blame his shortcomings on either one of these or on both. Free trade Republicans will undoubtedly try to portray a Romney defeat as a repudiation of his China-bashing, as if being more zealous in his support for new free trade agreements would have done anything but hurt him in several of the states that will likely have rejected him.

If Romney loses, it will be the third national election that the GOP has lost in the last four cycles. Losing in 2012 should alert Republicans to the limits of relying so heavily on anti-Obama sentiment and it should make them understand the diminishing returns of running against a fantasy record, especially on foreign policy. A Romney loss would be the second consecutive time that a candidate espousing an aggressive and confrontational foreign policy was rejected by the public. That should be taken as a signal that the GOP will not recover its reputation on foreign policy until it faces up to its failures in the Bush years and tries to learn from them. Considering how the party responded to the even more obvious repudiations of Bush-era foreign policy failures in 2006 and 2008, it seems unlikely that this is how most Republicans will interpret defeat, so it is something that will have to be repeated as often as possible in the near future.

If it happens, as seems likely, a 2012 Republican loss shouldn’t be at all surprising. The Bush administration truly was one of the three or four worst presidential administrations of the last sixty years, and Bush’s party still hasn’t come to grips with what that means for how the rest of the country sees them. In the wake of such a huge failure, it would be almost inexplicable that the public could entrust the Presidency to that same party after just four years. Assuming that Romney loses next week, the puzzle won’t be why he lost, but why he was ever within striking distance in the first place.