McCain (unless he self-destructs, which isn't out of the realm of possibility) will get the GOP nod and lose to Obama/Clinton. What Mitt can do is burnish his conservative credentials over the next 4 years (and maybe replace some of that money that he spent from his personal fortune).Mitt is certainly more than capable as a politician and a good executive, but his credentials as a principled conservative have always been a sticking point with me. Could I vote for Mitt in 2012? He would have to reverse his position on the Iraq war, but I truly believe that it will be politically palatable 4 years from now because of the deteriorating economic situation here. People are going to be looking for places to cut government spending and the only place that is going to happen is in foreign policy.
He could throw his support towards Dr. Paul now (since McCain pretty much has the nom locked up) and up his standing with conservatives. Since Dr. Paul isn't going to run in 2012, and the economy will be an issue at that time as well (and not terrorism). Romney could position himself to pick up the only segment of the GOP base that's growing, the libertarian Goldwater wing of the party.
That being said, Romney is young, (he's 60 but looks 50) and has the bankroll (and shown more than a willingness to use it) and he has shown great organizational skills. So 2012 could mark "his turn".
It looks like Bryan over at Hotair is thinking the same thing:
What Romney doesn’t have and never really established is his conservative bona fides (the same goes for Huckabee, for that matter, whose social conservatism is solid while he lacks on the economic and national security fronts). Romney won endorsements from credible sources, but the voters either didn’t warm to him personally or didn’t trust him philosophically because he hasn’t always stood on the same side of many issues. From an organizational and personnel point of view he ran a great campaign, but from an ideological and emotional point of view he never made the deal. That’s the bad news.
The good news for him is that he has a few years in which the conservative mantle is up for grabs. No one owns it or has earned it. It could be his if he chooses to earn it. Reagan changed his positions on some issues over time, so it’s not the case that an honest change of mind is permanent political poison. It’s not. But Romney has to prove that where he is now is where he will always be and that he’s a studied and worthy leader.