I was talking to a Democratic political operative who knows far more about voting patterns than I do, and he agreed with my hunch that the most plausible road back to victory in the Electoral College for Republicans runs through what I think of as the Big Ten states: the Upper Midwest, the Great Lakes states minus New York plus Iowa. (Although the Big Ten is lately the Big Fourteen and sprawls all over the place.)
It's not a sexy sounding strategy: these states will undoubtedly lose a few Electoral Votes in 2024, but in 2016 and 2020, they'll be attractive targets. Rather than convert Latinos or single moms or Latino single moms or whatever to voting Republican, all you have to do is pick up some more whites in mostly white states in elections when black turnout is likely to drop if the Democrats nominate a non-black candidate.
The 2012 math is pretty intriguing. Romney needed 64 additional Electoral Votes to win, and, leaving aside Illinois, which he lost big and Indiana, which he won: he lost by moderate margins in these states:
He could have won the election if he'd just won four of those six: PA, OH, MI and either WI or MN
Or he could have won without Michigan by adding Iowa, and keeping PA, OH, and both WI and MN.
And, adding a state or two elsewhere (Virginia? Colorado?) makes the Big Ten strategy math extremely plausible.
This Big Ten strategy doesn't sound impossible: mostly it means that the GOP has to figure out how northern whites and southern whites can get along better in a Republican coalition than northern whites and blacks can get along in a Democratic coalition.
Of course, anybody who tries to put together such a sensible coalition will be the most evil person in the history of the world. Remember when Jesse Helms won re-election by running an ad against affirmative action? That was evil. Remember when George H.W. Bush's supporters ran an ad pointing out that Michael Dukakis was such a clueless liberal that he had vetoed a bill withdrawing prison furloughs for first degree murderers, with predictable consequences? That was evil.
Romney didn't do that. He ran a nice campaign and lost. But being a loser makes you evil anyway, so, short of just plain taking a dive like McCain in 2008, it's damned if you do and damned if you don't if you are a Republican.