And what if Romney loses? The loudest voices in the party will insist that it was only because he was not conservative enough, and the pressure will be on to choose a nominee next time around who genuinely believes all the things Romney pretends to believe (get ready for Santorum ‘16). Yet there may be a countervailing force within the party, likely led by Karl Rove, arguing that the GOP’s problem is a demographic one (Rove understands this well). It has increasingly become the party of white men, an evolution accelerated when its presidential primaries feature endless fear-mongering about immigration and slut-shaming of any woman more free-spirited than Queen Victoria. That demographic narrowing could prove disastrous this year. Ruy Teixeira, one of the clearest-eyed observers of electoral and demographic trends, argues that because of the growth in the minority populations that overwhelmingly support Obama, the president could lose white working-class voters by 28 points and white college-educated voters by 19 points and still win. In other words, he could do just as poorly with whites as Democrats did in the 2010 blowout and still be re-elected.
If that happens, will the Republicans try to moderate ideologically? The truth is, they don’t really have to. They were more conservative than ever in 2010, and won a historic electoral victory. Or consider the last Republican president. When he first took control of his party’s nominating contest in 2000, George W. Bush was hailed by innumerable commentators as a “different kind of Republican”—someone who could reach out to all kinds of voters with his “compassionate conservatism.” He was particularly good at convincing Latino voters that he bore them no ill will, and lost their votes by a measly 9 points in 2004 (in the latest polls, Romney trails Obama among Latinos by over 40 points). Yet what was the policy substance of Bush’s presidency? Massive tax cuts for the wealthy, needless wars costing trillions, a gargantuan expansion of the national-security state, a federal judiciary filled with movement conservatives—in other words, an eight-year orgy of conservative wish-fulfillment.