Well, look, either you'll have an extremist conservative, be it Gingrich or Santorum, in which case I think it will make a big difference which of the two comes in. If it's between Obama and Romney, there isn't all that much difference except for the crowd that they bring with them. --George Soros
Since what I am writing is probably blasphemy to a lot of Republicans, let me just begin by saying that I have considered myself a Republican since I was 6 years old (when I first saw a Reagan press conference) and would never ever vote for a radical anti-American socialist like Obama. The purpose of this post is just to think about the future, past the 2012 election to what might happen in 2014 and beyond. It just seems that so many people are focused on "how do we win" instead of focusing on "what do we win?". With Mitt Romney, the answer is clearly "not much" and I would suggest that longer term, conservatives will be the losers with a Romney presidency.
Romney is what they used to call an 80%-er. A Republican who essentially agrees with the Democrats, but will only do about 80% of what they will do. Think about it, how exactly would a President Romney be that different than a President Obama for another 4 years (especially if Obama doesn't have a filibuster proof majority)? In both cases, Obamacare will still be intact as it has been clear that Romney will not repeal it. His 59 point plan uses the same kinds of class warfare oriented targeted tax cuts as Obama, and that is even before having to give up anything in negotiations with the Democrats. His big argument with Obama on Afghanistan is that Obama wants to remove surge troops in September 2012 instead of December, as Romney would prefer, a whopping 3 month difference. No talk of victory, just fine tuning the timing of withdrawal. His big argument with Obama on Israel is that he doesn't think he should have criticized him publicly. Big whoop. Most conservatives want to elect someone who actually agrees with Israel, not someone who will turn the screws on them. If Israel is being pressured to give in to terrorists, how does it matter exactly if it is public or private? Worst of all, because Romney won Florida and all his yes men seem to have told him that he has the nomination in the bag, he has already started veering left for the general. Just yesterday, he said he supported increasing the minimum wage despite the fact that most conservative economists believe this will be a "job killer" (which is what the Club for Growth said would happen if his plan were enacted). Essentially, he is a guy who only believes in the free market if he and his friends can make money, but not for the rest of us. No, we have to be taken care of by the government. He just doesn't see anything wrong with saying "I'm from the government and I'm here to help".
Now just think about what having a Republican like that will do to the conservative cause in 2014 and beyond. Time and again, when Republicans start acting like 80%-ers (or RINO's, Democrat-Lites, etc.) the base stays home and the Republicans get decimated at the ballot box. After all, what is the point of voting for Republicans if they act like Democrats? Just look at history. In 1952, after betraying the true conservative Robert Taft, the GOP nominated Eisenhower, who was by definition a RINO (he only decided on being a Republican instead of a Democrat not long before the election). This helped them in that election where they took control of both the House and the Senate but that didn't last long at all. Thanks to Eisenhower's Democrat-lite policies, the GOP lost control of both houses in the 1954 election. In fact, in the 1958 election the Democrats ended up with a whopping 64 seats in the Senate (vs. 34 for the GOP) and 283 in the House (vs. a paltry 153 for the GOP). The Nixon/Ford years were even worse as we never got even close to having a majority in either House of Congress. The high water mark seems to have been only 44 Senate seats after the 1970 elections and 192 House seats after the 1972 elections (which is pretty amazing given that Nixon carried 49 states that year!). That is not so surprising given that Nixon was soft on the Soviets, surrendered to the North Vietnamese and even implemented socialist wage and price controls! After the 1976 election, the GOP was down to only 38 seats in the Senate and an embarrassing 143 in the House (the equivalent of only having 33 Senate seats)! That was a pretty big hole, but thanks to Reagan and then later Newt Gingrich, the GOP was finally able to take control of both Houses of Congress for multiple elections, only losing control in 2006 after Bush started tacking to the center (though the ongoing Iraq war didn't help).
In 2014, after two years of Romney, Obamacare will have been implemented, costing much more than advertised and being a major drag on the economy, and none of his 59 point fine tuning will have done anything to help us solve either our short or long term problems. He will prove a squish who will use moderate GOP and Democratic support to pass big government programs in order to "alleviate the suffering of the middle class". I would expect no major changes on taxes or regulations and nothing that you can hang your hat on foreign policy wise. Midterm elections are usually bad for Presidents and I would expect 2014 to be unusually so as most of the Tea Party simply stays home, if they haven't started a third party by then. Plus, as he would have reneged on his promise to repeal Obamacare, he will probably be blamed for many of its failings (the fact that he implemented the model for it in Massachusetts won't help matters either). As primary challenges pretty much never work, we'd be stuck with Romney again for 2016 in which case we probably get a full fledged liberal democrat at the helm, potentially with a filibuster proof majority. Any benefit we will have gained in terms of judicial appointments from 2012-2016 will immediately be reversed. In other words, under Romney, we'd probably be almost guaranteed to have malaise until 2020 or even beyond as our long term problems will continue to get worse.
If Obama wins in 2012, as long as the GOP still has enough members of Congress to block most of his legislation, the situation won't be that different in the short term. Obamacare will be implemented, dragging on the economy and Obama will continue to mismanage everything under the sun. But by 2014, he will have to answer for that 2,000 page monstrosity he jammed down our throats without any Republican support, hopefully opening the way for another watershed year like 1994 or 2010. By 2014, the negative impact of Obamacare will no longer be theoretical, but real, felt by almost every American. By 2016, hopefully the Tea Party will have been able to get more influence within the GOP so that people like Romney and McCain aren't even considered for the nomination and we end up having a real conservative as President.
Now I do realize that this was an argument some were making in 2008, that it might be better for Obama to win as one term of someone like Carter will get us someone like Reagan. The difference in this case though is that Obama will not likely have a filibuster proof majority, so the dangers of him passing another Obamacare (as Cap and Trade would be) are minimal, if not almost nonexistent. Also, the Tea Party is still relatively new and wasn't able to get very close to the levers of power in the year since taking over the House. Given additional time, it is possible that the Tea Party will have the power within the GOP that they deserve.
Anyway, hopefully this argument turns out to be purely academic and Newt is able to be our Reagan, win the nomination and help save America. As I wrote before, this is very possible.