The election is just a little over nine days away. It still seems more likely than not that Romney will lose the election. Romney will probably fall short by 13 electoral votes by winning Virginia, Florida, and Colorado, but still coming up short in Ohio. If Romney loses as it seems he will, there will be frustration and disbelief in Republicans ranks followed by a free-for-all of recriminations. As I’ve mentioned before, the Romney campaign has been vague enough that every faction will have things it can use to justify its own position and things it can use to blame its intra-party rivals. Because Romney mostly ran a campaign about nothing, no faction in the GOP will accept that it was the one that contributed most to the loss, and no disputes within the party will be any closer to resolution. Everyone will invoke the Dougherty Doctrine, and most factions will be able to separate themselves from the failed Romney campaign that they won’t suffer significant political consequences because of the loss.
Most Republicans would take for granted that Ryan should not to be blamed for the outcome, and he would continue to be built up and promoted as the preferred future candidate of certain movement conservative pundits and activists. While there will be an attempt by moderate Republicans to blame the ticket’s failure on the fiscal views linked with Ryan, movement conservatives wouldn’t accept this. Ryan would go back to the House and continue to be lauded as a hero for a while, but it likely wouldn’t lead to much after a year or two. Losing VP nominees tend not to have much success in the next nominating contest, and I suspect Ryan would be no exception. By 2015, Ryan will probably be overtaken by other would-be presidential candidates.
As frustrated by a Romney loss as Republicans would be, the party will have an incentive to find a more credible and competitive candidate for the next presidential election. That means that the 2012 also-rans might run again, but they aren’t going to get very far. A party that hasn’t controlled the Presidency for eight years isn’t going to gamble its future on Rick Santorum or anyone else like that. Party leaders will want to find a well-known and well-connected candidate that can dominate the next presidential field without much difficulty. A drawn-out nominating contest is the last thing they will want, and they’ll try to find someone with the financial backing and name recognition to become the presumptive nominee quickly. It is doubtful that party leaders would rally behind a relatively young and untested candidate, which would probably make Rubio, Christie, and others first elected in 2009 or 2010 unlikely nominees.
Even if Romney were to win the popular vote and still lose the election, it is hard to imagine that he would seek the nomination again. The resistance to nominating him again would be intense, and by the next election cycle he would have been a near-permanent candidate for almost a decade. If Romney loses, he will depart from the political scene for the foreseeable future, and it will probably be another generation before another candidate named Romney competes in a federal election.