My own view is that the only way to rehinge an unhinged party is for it to lose badly. And because Romney put Ryan on the ticket, and endorsed the entire Tea Party shebang, it will be hard for the wingnuts to blame defeat on running a moderate.Sullivan is insightful about many things, but he utterly misunderstands the Tea Party and the Republican Party's primary electorate. Should Mitt Romney lose the election, as it seems reasonably likely that he will, the Tea Party movement and the larger set of Republican partisans who populate its primary electorate will, I suspect, draw precisely the opposite lesson from the election.
The conservative movement, including the Tea Party, will conclude that Romney's loss was a result of his failure to forcefully articulate a clear and consistent conservative vision. Had Romney been a true Reagan conservative, it will reason, he could have easily driven Barack Obama from office in the midst of a slow and uncertain economic recovery in the same way that the Great Reagan himself defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Instead, they will reason that the Republican Party lost a winnable election because the country club establishment pushed the great moderate from Massachusetts on them. As a result, they will say that RomneyCare took ObamaCare off the table as an issue, that Romney put too much distance between himself and Paul Ryan's original budget roadmap (and corrupted Paul Ryan in the process), that he failed hit the president on Benghazi, and that he was soft on abortion. In short, the movement will blame Romney's defeat on every way he diverged from its ideal rather than any way in which he embraced it.
I expect neither the leadership of the conservative movement nor its adherents in the mass public to find any reason to moderate their political ambitions or rhetoric as a result of a Romney defeat. Instead, I expect the most committed parts of the conservative movement, including the Tea Party, to double down on their prior beliefs. Among other things, if Mitt Romney loses next Tuesday, I expect that the next presidential nominee of the Republican Party will be much more like Rick Santorum than Jeb Bush. Likewise, Mike Lees and Richard Mourdocks will continue to seriously and successfully Bob Bennetts and Dick Lugers in conventions and primaries for seats in Congress and state legislatures across the country. And, the general trend of asymmetrical partisan polarization will continue.