Beyond the what-might-have-beens lies obdurate political fate: Romney lost because he was up against the most powerful of forces. No, not some secret conspiracy but inertia, which tends to be a powerful force of its own.
There is much ruin in a nation, as Adam Smith observed, but it may not be as powerful as just plain, immovable inertia, the tendency of things to stay as they are. However unsatisfactory their drift, which may now continue in the wrong direction, or no clear direction at all, whether we're talking about the economy or the decline of American leadership in the world's increasingly dangerously affairs.
However disappointing the election returns Tuesday, the Republican Party remains the engine of new ideas in a political climate that otherwise seems bereft of any proposals except Stay the Course, however disastrous it may prove.
The challenge for the GOP is to find leaders who can explain those ideas convincingly to We the People despite all the confusion and scaretalk they may stir up. Paul Ryan, the party's vice-presidential candidate this year, showed it can be done. And will be done again.
Now is no time to take refuge in more radical and less popular ideas than Romney's candidacy represented. That way lies not victory but a fantasy world that offers only more defeat.
TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES