Waterloo for the Republicans: Will the Cruz, Paul, Palin, Lee, Bachmann wing win out?

In the coming two to four years, the Republicans seem ready to engage in a battle royal for the soul of their party. And it sure will be ugly.

It looks like a war between the Backward Caucus and the usual Conservative Caucus. Forget the moderate Republicans; most of them were put out to pasture long ago.

Parties have seen battles between factions since the founding of the republic: the Whigs, the Bull Moose Party, conservative Democrats, liberal Republicans — plenty of splinter groups to go around.

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Conservatives took over the Republican Party in the 1970s and northern liberal Republicans became nearly extinct. Conservative southern Democrats who controlled committee chairmanships gradually disappeared as Nixon’s Southern strategy turned those states red over a couple of decades.

The most telling battle was Reagan challenging Gerald Ford in 1976 and winning a solid conservative majority in 1980, even taking control of the Senate. Pat Buchanan’s multiple bids for the presidency further exacerbated the rift in the GOP.

But that was nothing compared to what we are seeing today.

The country is changing and changing fast. For Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), the Three Musketeers in the Senate, they are locked into the Ozzie and Harriet 1950s.

On gay rights, the Senate is about to pass legislation to ban discrimination in the workplace, 14 states have legalized same sex marriage, and polling has done an about-face in less than 10 years. Yet, a large faction of the Republican Party and the Backward Caucus will hear none of it. The House will do its best to sink any reforms, and an audience of Republicans viewing a presidential debate would probably still boo a gay soldier. The message has been clear from the Tea Party: no room for you in our America.

And on immigration and attitudes toward minorities, it is equally intolerant. When the electorate in 2012 was 72 percent, compared to 87 percent in 1992, and dropping, Republicans resisted reform and sent a message that many construed as racist.

And when a country is digging itself out of a horrendous recession, a handful of Republicans lead a charge to shut down the government and default on our obligations, costing us $24 billion. And many follow the Backward Caucus and vote in lock step. The result: The Republican Party is viewed more unfavorably than at any time since Watergate.

The reason this is different from other party splits or insider battles is that the policy positions are so extreme and so contrary to where the nation is headed that there may have to be a Waterloo.

It will come down either to the New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wing or the Cruz wing of the party winning out.

Do the extreme Tea Party challengers to conservative incumbents in Idaho, Kentucky, South Carolina and across the country indicate a wave or a wasted effort?

Will Republicans continue to become the anti-gay, anti-Hispanic, anti-black, anti-women, anti-young-people's party? Do they refuse to change with the country?

Or will they stand up to the bullies in the Backward Caucus and take control of their party and refuse to go along with those who shout the loudest, get on 24/7 cable news, and feed the talk show circuit?

After today’s results in Virginia and New Jersey, one would think that reasonable Republicans might get the message. But the battle is just beginning.