BOSTON » They predict he will write a book, convinced that the daily diary he kept on the campaign trail would make for a compelling read.
They speculate that he will return to the corridors of finance, where his reputation as a savvy chief executive and investor remains unblemished.
They suspect that he could take on a major role in the Mormon Church, picking up where he left off two decades ago.
In conversations over the past 24 hours, aides and advisers to Mitt Romney have begun turning their attention to an issue that until now they have never had to consider: his next move.
After three decades of remarkably seamless career hopping — from Bain Capital to the Olympic Games, from governor of Massachusetts to constant candidate for president — Romney is now a restless chief executive with no organization to run.
During a meeting at his campaign headquarters in Boston a few hours after conceding to President Barack Obama, Romney told his staff members that they had just witnessed his last political campaign.
But he vowed, in the words of two people in the room, that "I will not fall off the map."
For now Romney, 65, seems profoundly absorbed by the present, turning over in his head a public rejection whose depth caught him by surprise.
At a breakfast Wednesday morning for top campaign advisers and donors, Romney marveled at the Obama campaign’s ability to turn out such a large volume of voters on Election Day, though at times by using strategies that he said had unfairly maligned him.
He did little to hide his frustration and pique: He bemoaned attempts by the president and his allies to characterize him as an enemy of women, singling out advertisements that claimed he opposed contraception and abortion in all cases. That, Romney said, is simply untrue, according to those who attended the breakfast.
He even took a gentle swipe at the media, mocking what he said were inaccurate articles suggesting that his oldest son, Tagg, had staged an intervention to fix a tottering campaign and was playing a heavy role in shaping political strategy.
"He will be sifting through this for quite a while," said Kirk Jowers, a Romney friend. "The question is when the sifting takes a couple of hours a day instead of being all consuming."
Even his own aides said it was hard to know precisely how Romney, an unsparing self-critic, would respond to a loss that had such a personal dimension. It was his second run for the White House, and he had believed, until the very end, that he was ever so close to fulfilling the dream of his father, George, whose own presidential aspirations fell short in 1968.
Few of them can imagine him following the path of, say, Bob Dole, who traded in the title of Republican nominee to become a lobbyist and a pitchman for Viagra. Or Al Gore, who graciously accepted his loss in public, then descended into a private slump, growing a beard and putting on weight before slowly finding his passion in environmental advocacy that won him a Nobel Peace Prize.
"The only door that is closed to Mitt Romney for the remainder of his life is being president of the United States," said Steve Schmidt, a campaign adviser to Sen. John McCain in 2008. "He can do whatever else he wants to do."
He had a warning, though.
"Losing a presidential campaign is something you never get over," Schmidt said. "The question is whether you can move forward without bitterness or rancor."
Bitterness, of course, may be inevitable. Obama and McCain made some halfhearted efforts at postelection comity four years ago, with phone calls and meetings, but have subsequently kept a chilly distance. It is unclear whether the president’s election-night promise to sit down with Romney was anything more than a polite gesture.
Romney’s eagerness to work with the president is equally uncertain. Just after conceding, Romney told those close to him that he was anxious about the nation’s financial health under Obama.
There will probably be no shortage of lucrative job offers for Romney, who has not taken a steady paycheck since 1999, when he left Bain Capital to run the Salt Lake City Olympics, friends and colleagues said.
"He’s a hot commodity to me," Julian H. Robertson, a hedge fund titan, said in an interview not long ago.
Just how hot became evident in 2008, when Robertson offered Romney $30 million a year to run his firm, Tiger Management, according to people familiar with the discussions. Romney, who had his eye on a second White House bid, politely declined.
Back then, several of Romney’s aides held an improvised career counseling session with Romney in his campaign office. They figured he would run for president but threw out a series of suggestions anyway.
Why not run an auto company like Ford or General Motors, they asked. Or start a research group devoted to energy independence, an issue about which he is obsessed.
Today, the car company option seems unlikely, given Romney’s opposition to the federal bailout of U.S. car companies. But aides said that he would be receptive to a high-profile job in the private sector, the advocacy world or academia.
"I know he will do something," said Eric Fehrnstrom, a longtime Romney political adviser. "I just don’t know what it will be."
Not on his list of likely jobs: punditry. Friends said Romney could not imagine following the well-worn path of defeated Republican candidates to Fox News.
But his friends can envision him pecking away at opinion articles for major newspapers, a passion for Romney, who is known to tap them out on his BlackBerry on the beach or on a plane whenever inspiration strikes.
Turning out a book has become a familiar ritual for Romney, a former English major who prides himself on his writing. He produced "Turnaround," a look at his role turning around the Olympics, in 2004, and "No Apology," a political manifesto, in 2010.
There will be a few vacations. During the brunch with donors and aides Wednesday, Romney told an old friend, Fraser Bullock, that he was looking forward to skiing in Utah this winter.
For now, Romney has shown up at his campaign headquarters every day since the election, where he seems preoccupied with the futures of members of his campaign staff. He arranged for them to receive severance pay through the end of November.
His No. 1 priority, so far: establishing a system to organize the 400 resumes of those staff members whose paychecks will run out in 21 days.