It looks like all Romney has to do is not lose the next debate - be competent, reasonably likeable, and avoid drooling. I expect this won't be very hard.
What seems interesting is that Republicans seems to be doing better than expected in the down races, particularly the Senate. I have no workable model of how people will vote locally, but it seems plausible that the GOP will puck up a bunch of Senate seats, and may in fact retake the senate.
And for the first time, this makes me pessimistic.
This would indeed allow outright repeal of Obamacare and would maybe help a bit with SCOTUS nominations, but that's about as far as the upside looks to go. The problem is that this race will be decided (at the national level certainly, but also in the state races) by turnout. The GOP is planning a massive Get Out The Vote campaign, and a huge number of people will show up to vote GOP. The Republican establishment will look at this and say Aha! Q.E.D. and continue all their old, bad ways that got them tossed out in 2006/2008.
And so they will quickly fall back into their old ways, enjoying the perks of power. President Romney is a go along to get along sort of guy, and won't rein them in. Paul Ryan might want to, but the Vice Presidency is the graveyard of ambition. And so the massive turnout that swept the GOP into power will bleed away, and the Tea Party and libertarian types (and Democrat crossovers) give up in disgust.
The Democratic Party of course will be furious at Obama's loss, and will redouble its efforts to take power back. Depending on how quickly the GOP establishment alienates the voters who brought it to victory, 2014 may see the Democrats re-take the Senate. The game will be one of oscillation, where each side pushes the swing, making the vibrations increase each election cycle.
The danger is that the extremes don't cancel each other, but reinforce each other:
This is the famous Takoma Narrows Bridge which collapsed in 1940. The wind in the narrows blew with a particular force that got the bridge swaying back and forth, and one day the wind blew just right and the sway increased with each swing. Eventually the concrete and steel could take no more stress, and the bridge collapsed.
This Republic has strong bonds holding it together, but those bonds will take only so much stress. There are those in both parties who are reckless of the costs of their regaining committee chairmanships. The force that is increasing the stress on the Res Publica are entirely the increased size of government - for government is power, and that attracts those who would wield it.
The looming fiscal crisis has but a single solution, consisting of three parts:
1. Government programs (particularly the Democratic entitlement programs) must be cut. This is in fact the heart of the problem.
2. Taxes must be raised, because it will be impossible to get Democratic support to curb entitlements without new taxes. This is annoying, but is a plain fact.
3. The size of government must be cut, because otherwise the Tea Party types will (correctly) interpret "reform" as "more of the same". Downsizing Federal headcount is the price for their support - a tangible display of "shared sacrifice".
Romney will excel at reaching across the aisle to gain Democrat support (#2, above). His record in Massachusetts shows this conclusively. What he may not do is appeal to the Tea Party (#3). Ryan was a hope, but as I said he will not be in any position of responsibility.
And so I find myself pessimistic as to the outcome. The GOP establishment will continue to push for larger government, because they are all itching to wield the levers of power. They should know that these same (now enlarged) levers will be used by the Democrats when they return to power. They should know that GOP success depends on the Tea Party, and voters like me.
I'm pessimistic because while I think that they understand this, they don't care. The lure of power overwhelms their sense of caution, or more likely the hope that things won't turn out this way gives them the green light to skate past their responsibility. In short, the GOP embodies P.J. O'Rourke's dictum that giving money and power to politicians is like giving alcohol and car keys to teenagers.
I expect that the next 2 years will see this Republic continue vibrating towards the resonant frequency. The Ship of State is captained by fools, and all this election is looking to do is replace one set of fools with a different one. I sure hope that I'm wrong.