Nine months after a decisive loss in the 2012 elections, the battle for the soul of the Republican Party—or whatever’s left of it—has begun.

I’m not talking about a battle between moderates and conservatives. The conservatives won that fight a long time ago. Our children may never believe thatmoderate Republicans once roamed the Earth, advocating policies that would limit carbon pollution and invest in scientific research, reform our schools and build new roads, promote national service, reduce the influence of money in politics, and require individuals who can afford health insurance to take responsibility for buying it. Soon enough, these politicians will exist only in the minds of ’90s-era pundits andAaron Sorkin’s writing staff.

The conservatives have finally purified the Republican Party, dispatching moderate infidels in primary after primary, demanding fealty to their agenda of huge tax cuts and drastically lower spending. They have used their sizable numbers in Congress to help realize that agenda, with periodic assists from a president who has always been more fiscally responsible than his enemies would admit.

Today the tax burden on the vast majority of families is lower than it’s been in decades. Domestic spending outside of Medicare and Medicaid is the lowest it’s been in more than half a century. A public sector that has grown under the last four presidents has significantly contracted under Barack Obama. And deficits are fallingat the fastest pace in 60 years.

Conservatives remain unsatisfied. They want more tax cuts. More spending cuts. And I’m picking up signals that they’re not entirely thrilled with the Affordable Care Act.

But here, a new divide has emerged within the Republican Party. On one side are the traditional small-government conservatives, who have a rough acquaintance with the rules of politics and basic math. They may want to reduce the size of government further, but they also want to preserve the institutions of government, understanding that a functional democracy is necessary to provide for the common defense, promote a common prosperity, and tackle problems we can only solve together, as a nation.

These are Republicans like Chris Christie, who has witnessed the vital importance of robust federal aid in the wake of a terrible storm. These are Republicans like Jeb Bush, who has tried to reform public education without completely dismantling it. These are Republicans like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and the handful of senators who have sought compromise with Democrats over issues such as immigration reform and finally ended the historically exceptional blockade of perfectly qualified executive-branch nominees so that the president can fill the jobs his administration is required to perform.

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