So what would happen if Obama won?

Every once in a while you need to bring yourself back down to Earth and make sure you’re prepared for hard times, no matter how optimistic you may be feeling. No, we’re not talking about the coming zombie apocalypse or the idea that the Patriots might still win the AFC East title this year. This is even more dark and foreboding. What would happen if Obama wins the election next November? That’s pretty much the point of a lengthy essay at Outside the Beltway by Doug Mataconis this week.

After noting that Obama’s prospects are certainly looking dim, Doug reminds us that nothing is ever a sure thing and it doesn’t pay to get too comfortable before all the votes have been cast. So what would happen to the Republican Party in the event of such a loss? Well, it largely depends on who he lost to.

How the GOP reacts to a loss in 2012 would depend, at least in part, on who ends up winning the nomination. If the nominee is Mitt Romney as many expect, including yours truly, then the initial spin from conservatives, the Tea Party movement, and the blogger and talk radio crowd is likely to be that the party lost because the nominee wasn’t conservative enough. This was the same argument that many Republicans made after Bob Dole lost in 1996, and after John McCain lost in 2008. In reality, of course, it’s not at all clear that it was a lack of conservative bona fides that doomed either of these campaigns…

If Romney is the nominee and he loses, it’s likely the reaction will be the same and that, at least, initially we’ll see the activists in the GOP go on another purity quest. On Capitol Hill, this would likely have the impact of making the House GOP even less willing to compromise than it has been since the 2010 elections for fear of facing trouble during the 2014 midterms. The danger this poses for the GOP, of course, is that a re-elected President Obama is likely to have at least some public opinion boost behind him in 2013, as well as the ability to claim a mandate…

What if the nominee isn’t Mitt Romney, but one of the Tea Party favored candidates, the most realistic of those being either Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich?

This may be the best alternative of all for the GOP, because while it’s likely to lead to the same kind of reassessment that a Romney loss would, it be more likely to bring about the kind of changes that would benefit the party in the long run. The Tea Party hasn’t been an entirely bad thing for the GOP. In fact, I’d say that without John McCain’s loss in 2008 and the rise of the Tea Party, we likely would not have seen the GOP take control of Congress in 2010. However, as we learned in 2010 and as we’re learning to some extent during the early month of the 2012 election cycle, the movement has also caused the party to go off on bizarre tangents at times and to take insane stands like appearing to be willing to take the nation to the brink of financial chaos back in August. The “no compromise” position that the Tea Party represents may be good for internal party consumption and it may make the true believers happy, but it’s not good government and it’s probably not a good long term political strategy. A loss in 2012 that gets pinned on the movement would likely re-energize the “establishment” and more traditional conservatives in the party and cause a backlash against some of the more radical elements of the Tea Party. In the long run, this would probably be good for the GOP.

As long as that excerpt is, there’s a lot more of it at the link, so before you draw conclusions, read the full explanation. But with that in mind, I have a couple of thoughts to add.

At the highest level, I agree that the Republican reaction (and almost unavoidable civil war) will depend entirely on who the nominee is. If it’s Mitt and he manages to lose, (which will be something of a trick since he polls better against Obama than any of his fellow candidates) then we’ll hear the same thing we heard about McCain following 2008. The finger pointing would be immediate, but we’d have to wait for a lot of data to find out if the base actually “stayed home” for a change, (they pretty much never do) or if we failed to make the sale to the middle third of the country again like last time. Beyond that, I think Doug is pretty much correct. It would likely fuel an even larger four year swing of rebellion against the perceived “establishment Republican Party” as well as another long stretch of Congress accomplishing essentially nothing.

But if the nominee turns out to be the “Anti-Romney candidate” (insert name here) and they lose, then a different dynamic plays out. The finger pointing ensues, but in the opposite direction. The conversation will run along the lines of, “You Tea Partiers! You just HAD to have it your way, didn’t you? You couldn’t just nominate Mitt. Noooooo. You had to put in another Christine O’Donnell candidate. You’d rather lose the war than win a battle!

Of course, the third scenario is the one where the Republican wins. No matter whether it’s Romney or Not-Romney, everyone sits back down quietly for the most part and breaths a collective sigh of relief. And if that’s the case, the coat tails will likely take the Senate back over to the GOP side and then the Republicans will get to prove whether or not their theories can actually improve things before we begin the whole shooting match all over again a year later.

I have a headache already.