"If you try to imagine the Republican consensus after a potential losing election, it will look like this. It will recognize that its harsh partisan rhetoric turned off voters, and will urgently want to woo Latinos, while holding on to as much as possible of the party’s domestic policy agenda. And oh, by the way, the party will be casting about for somebody to lead it."
— Jonathan Chait, getting almost everything completely wrong. In the wake of a 2012 Presidential defeat, the GOP will immediately declare that the loss was really due to voter fraud, white voter intimidation, “massive” negative spending by The Democrat and Unions, and a generalized malaise caused by Romney not having been “conservative enough.” The only answer: go more conservative. This is quite consistently how they react to all electoral setbacks; a pattern they’ve been following for these past two decades or more. Narrow electoral victories for the GOP are massive mandates; losses are the result stolen elections or otherwise non-binding outcomes that were exacerbated by a lack of true-believer conservatives in whatever positions were at stake. Why suddenly stop now? What has changed? What possible political or strategic upside do they see in “playing along”? Why would they even know how to legislate from compromise and whatever passes for centrism? Seriously, I’m asking; they who hold these offices and will (largely) hold them post-2012 have likely never worked in this way in their careers. But somewhere around lunchtime on January 20, 2013 they are suddenly getting their opposing number on the horn to talk real business? Seriously, we are meant to believe this, Jonathan (and, for that matter, Obama)?
A loss at the top of the ticket in 2012 will not be a moment for reflection, or a “centrist move” that’s been likened to the fever breaking. It will, instead, be an occasion to take it even further right. Impeachments will become a daily affair. Nothing will move. Default will be used as the default hostage for everything. And etc… Basically just like it is now, but about 100x worse. Based on recent and not-so-recent history, nothing could possibly be more clear to everyone outside the DC commentariat: if Obama wins, we will be counting our lucky stars that gridlock happens to result in long-term positive policy outcomes over the next 9 months or so. Because nothing else will be happening other than weekly or even daily Constitutional Crises.
But, as I said, Chait does get one thing right: they’ll be looking for a leader. And but also it won’t be Jeb Bush. Think more along the lines of Bachmann but even more crazy. That’s who will emerge. Basically whatever lunatic gets the most play out of the most popular impeachment movement. Maybe that’s Santorum, but I suspect he will seem rather retrograde and far too Liberal to play in 2016. We may look back at him wistfully by then as the far-right GOP candidate who was pretty palatable by comparison. Because one of them is going to win sooner or later.