Published November 07. 2013 4:00AM
History may come to view Tuesday's election as the start of the fight for the soul of the Republican Party, culminating in the direction it takes in selecting a candidate for the 2016 presidential election.
In one wing of the party are the more traditional Republicans, primarily concerned with providing a healthy climate for business, fiscal constraint and low taxes. It is a wing more willing to compromise to achieve its goals, less fixated on cultural issues such as abortion and gay marriage. This wing sees immigration reform, with its path to citizenship for those who arrived here unlawfully, as politically practical in attracting Latino voters and good for business by bringing millions out of the shadow economy.
The other wing, a combination of the tea party movement and what is left of the Moral Majority, insists on greater ideological purity. They demand dramatic reductions in government spending and programs, with little stomach to compromise. They see immigration reform as a pseudonym for amnesty, awarding people for their illegal actions when coming here. They will not bend on abortion or gay marriage, despite any perceived political advantage, considering these moral wrongs they cannot accept.
With his landslide re-election victory in a Democratic state, Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey demonstrated traditional, pragmatic Republicanism has the far greater chance of prevailing in a national election. Gov. Christie's combination of fiscal conservatism, a demonstrated ability to find compromises and moderation on cultural issues - he supports immigration reform, the constitutional protection of reproductive rights, and ended his fight against same-sex marriage when the court ruled against his administration - attracted constituencies that Republicans need to win at a national level.
Gov. Christie received 57 percent of the female vote, 51 percent of the Latino vote, and the support of 21 percent of black voters.
But in the presidential primary process, will conservatives in Iowa and the South accept a Gov. Christie or someone like him or demand an ideological purist who will again demonstrate how to lose a general election?
That is the debate likely to play out in the GOP over the next three years.