In one of my last pre-election posts, I remarked that the closeness of the election and Mitt Romney’s impressive final month of campaigning meant that he would probably enjoy more respect in defeat than is usual for losing presidential candidates. A week later, that prediction looks more than a little premature, mostly because I thought the final outcome would be closer than it was (closer to 50-49 than the ’04-esque 51-48 it looks like we’ll end up with), and I didn’t realize how completely, wildly off the mark the Romney’s campaign’s theory of the electorate (a theory that I myself found relatively persuasive, I should note) would turn out to be. …

If you think Rush Limbaugh’s “slut” sneer and Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments cost Republicans this year, imagine how the press would have covered the “war on women” debate if Santorum — who actually did speak out against birth control in the primary campaign — had been the top of the Republican ticket. If you think it was too easy for Obama to define Romney with a blizzard of negative ads over the summer, imagine how much material a Gingrich candidacy would have given the White House’s admakers to work with. If you think that Romney suffered from being perceived as too much like George W. Bush Part II, imagine if the Republican candidate in 2012 had been a yet more tongue-tied and more right-wing Texan governor whose debate performances made Obama’s Denver sleepwalk look Ciceronian.

“How much worse could it get?” Last asks. In the electoral college, maybe not that much worse. But in the popular vote? There I hardly think Romney was scraping bottom. His 48 percent of the vote wasn’t even close to the floor for Republican candidates this cycle: Out of eighteen high-profile Senate races, the Washington Post noted last week, Romney outperformed the party’s nominee in eleven of them, and was outperformed in only four — all in deep blue states he was never going to win anyway.