But there is no way they didn't think there was at least a very plausible chance of defeat. There were all sorts of examples of Republicans hedging their bets in the days leading up to the election and pre-spinning a loss. That doesn't happen when everyone thinks that victory is in hand. It's been reported that Romney's internal polls had him down 5 in Ohio. Even if everyone in the Romney campaign was completely innumerate, they surely understood that victory without Ohio was exceedingly difficult. Hence the eleventh hour forays into Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
I think you're wrong in suggesting that it's not preferable for the Romney-ites to be perceived as fools than liars. Remember, it's not just the Shelden Adelsons of the world that gave money. Lots of regular Republican voters donated their time and money to the effort, based on repeated assurances that things were going great and victory was in the cards. And Hell hath no fury like someone defrauded of their money. If Romney's inner circle admits that all their pre-election fund-raising pitches about impending victory were BS (i.e. knowingly false), that's much worse for them and for the party. It completely undermines trust with donors and the Republican electorate. People may be persuaded to give money again to people who were wrong before. But they won't give to people they think are liars and hucksters. The "shell-shocked" story line isn't flattering to the GOP establishment. But it's much better than the alternative, which is that they're all big fat liars.
It's probably worth noting that MH is carving out the possibility of the 'Limited, Modified Shellshock', which is basically what I think I believe. I mean, who guys into a tight election night and doesn't think it's possible you can lose? Only delusional people. Errr, wait ... In any case, who doesn't write a concession speech? Someone who's going into an election night when the evidence points to a loss but needs wild bravado to keep his team thinking a win is possible. You really think Obama didn't have a concession written?