Republicans should be concerned that Mitt Romney’s numbers among independents have been tanking in recent weeks; he went from double-digit leads over Obama in some polls, including one by the Pew Research Center, to a 9-point deficit. He is considered the “most electable” Republican. If other GOP contenders have equally dismal or worse approval numbers among independents, you have to wonder whether this could end up as a choice election, with Republicans coming out on the losing end.

It is becoming quite clear that the conservative base of the Republican Party is driving the car. These voters prefer someone from the pull-no-punches brand of conservatism that created the tea party movement in 2009 and handed Republicans their House majority in 2010. It’s certainly the GOP’s right and choice to do that. The calendar, though, says 2012. The mood of the broader electorate—and, specifically, independents—appears to be very different. If you see any of Obama’s advisers looking bruised from head to toe, it might be from pinching themselves in disbelief…

If House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell went into a back room, maybe accompanied by the four living GOP presidential nominees (McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, and George H.W. Bush), with the doors locked and a puff of smoke emerging, they could decide on a 2012 Republican nominee. That anointed one would possibly be a stronger general-election contender than whomever the GOP will probably end up picking. But could such an establishment choice pass muster with the base?