* Obama got the auto bailout right. Romney got it wrong. You can’t overstate how important the argument over the legacy of the auto bailout is likely to be to the 2012 campaign. With unemployment expected to remain high, Obama will aggressively showcase it as an example of government intervention in the economy producing an unqualified success in the midst of the industrial heartland.

Given that Republicans, including Mitt Romney, widely panned the rescue of the auto industry as something akin to socialism, he’ll present it as a decisive rebuttal to the conservative worldview. If Romney is the nominee, the Obama team will point to it as a case where his ideological blinkers led him astray on a crucial economic decision that had far reaching consequences, raising serious questions about his judgment. The focus on such individual successes — amid an economy that’s expected to continue struggling next year — will be key to the pushback against the GOP argument that Obama’s policies and the ideology undergirding them have failed.

In that context, Glenn Kessler has an important read this morning: He’s taken the most detailed look I’ve seen yet at Romney’s positions on the auto bailout, his infamous claim that Detroit should “go bankrupt,” and his frequent assertion that Obama followed his plan. Kessler concludes that Romney is distorting the record:

Romney is correct when he says he has been consistent on the question of bailouts for the auto industry, but he pushes the envelope when he suggests the Obama administration, after wasting billions, ultimately reached the same conclusion. By most accounts, Romney’s approach would not have been viable in the depths of the economic crisis. And certainly Romney’s prediction that a bailout would lead to the auto industry’s certain demise was wildly incorrect.

In other words, Obama didn’t follow Romney’s plan, and even if Romney’s positions have been consistent (the flip flop charge seems to be wrong on this one), the bottom line is that Obama got it right, while Romney got it wrong. Clip and save this one — this argument will be central.

* Who will emerge as conservative challenger to Romney? Dan Balz has an interesting look at what has now become the central dynamic of the GOP primary fight: The unwillingness of the Tea Party/conservative wing of the GOP to coalesce around any of the alternatives to Romney.

Key takeaway: Those voters have also proven stubbornly unwilling to embrace Romney, which has left many GOP strategists convinced that a strong conservative challenger may yet emerge.

* Scandal? What scandal? Cain-mentum continues apace: The new CBS/New York Times poll finds that Herman cain is still leading the GOP pack, with 18 percent, while Mitt Romney is tied with ... Newt Gingrich for second place, at 15 points.

And get this: 61 percent of Republicans say the charges against Cain won’t make a difference in their vote.

* Taking Herman Cain’s claims at face value: Jed Lewison makes a good point here: Why should we believe Cain’s claim of raising millions and millions of dollars in the wake of the accusations? Keep an eye out for those FEC reports.

* Lampooning Romney’s “steadiness and constancy”: Dems are out with a new video contrasting Romney’s equivocations and contortions on the payroll tax cut with his claim that he’s a “man of steadiness and constancy.”

The vid pivots off that claim to debut a new line: “Mitt Romney: Constantly saying whatever it takes to get elected.” It’s the latest sign that the sense that Romney lacks any kind of ideological core — a sentiment that’s shared by Dems and some conservative Republicans alike — is seen as one of Romney’s leading vulnerabilities.

* 2011 proved that 2012 won’t be 2010: Charles Krauthammer concedes the meaning of Tuesday’s results: “The 2011 off-year elections are a warning to Republicans. The 2010 party is over. 2012 will be a struggle.”

Also: I agree with Krauthammer’s assessment that public opinion is volatile and in flux, and could go either way next year, and that the stakes are very high for precisely that reason.

* No, the Europe debacle doesn’t confirm the American conservative worldview: Paul Krugman points out that the European countries with more generous welfare states are the ones that have better weathered the crisis, and punctures Mitt Romney’s nonstop use of “European” as a catch-all slur to tar Obama’s alleged big-government policies:

Mitt Romney has accused President Obama of taking his inspiration from European “socialist democrats” and asserted that “Europe isn’t working in Europe.” The idea, presumably, is that the crisis countries are in trouble because they’re groaning under the burden of high government spending. But the facts say otherwise.

I’d only add here that Romney’s nonstop invocations of the “European” influences on Obama have an additional and more pernicious subtext.

* What does it take for the Senate to help the afflicted? When it doesn’t afflict millionaires and billionaires in any way.

* Republicans press ahead with their supercommittee plan: Supercommittee GOPers continue to press the idea that it’s a “concession” on their part to offer to accept $300 billion in new loophole/deduction revenues in exchange for huge tax cuts on the wealthy. Dems continue to rebuff this deal, because it isn’t a real concession. What remains to be seen is if Dems are genuinely going to hold out for tax increases in the rich.

* But Grover Norquist has given supercommittee GOPers their marching orders: Confirming yet again that tax hikes are likely to be nonstarter, Norquist, who claims he’s on the phone regularly with supercommittee members, makes his marching orders plain: “There’s not going to be a tax increase.’

So there you go. Norquist has decreed that there won’t be any grand bargain if it means the wealthy have to sacrifice anything at all.

What else is happening?