What is now looming for many Republicans is a fight over which wing of the party will wrest control of the GOP's mantle, right wing social and fiscal conservatives, like Newt Gingrich, evangelical Christians, like Mike Huckabee, or moderate Republicans, like Rudy Giuliani.
For the past 40 years, the GOP's success has come from a broad coalition of conservatives. Evangelical Christians who have pushed a pro-life, values-based agenda have made strange but powerful bedfellows with libertarians and fiscal conservatives who want small government and a laissez-faire approach to their lives and finances.
Isolationists who do not support U.S. intervention in foreign affairs have supported and voted for the same candidates backed by neo-conservatives who believe the U.S. has the right to extend its power anywhere in the world.
That coalition, which experts say has been fraying for years, could ultimately be undone by this election. Each faction believes it represents the soul of the party and each is jockeying to become the base on which the party's new incarnation should be built.
"The Republican Party and the conservative coalition is an unstable compound that has been coming apart for several years," said Richard Norton Smith, an ABC News consultant and former director of the Lincoln, Hoover, Eisenhower, Reagan and Ford libraries. "The immigration debate illustrated that dramatically and the infighting around the Wall Street bailout even more so. Pat Buchanan isolationist Republicans have little in common with Wall Street Republicans, and libertarian Republicans have little in common with the religious right."
"The party will have to decide which of those strains will revive the party and lead it into the future." he said.
Ed Rollins, a Republican strategist and chairman of Gov. Mike Huckabee's primary run, predicted that the party could not move forward if it turned its back on the religious right.
"You don't just walk away from religious voters," Rollins said. "They make up 39 percent of the populace. You build from there to get to 51 percent. Whether the party moves more to the right or more to the center, we're in an era of personality politics, and picking a candidate everyone can get behind is essential."
Rollins predicted that many of the contenders for the nomination were still players in the party's future.
"Huckabee has the religious right and is in it," he said. "Giuliani, more of a moderate, is still in it. Romney, who no one knows if he is socially conservative or not, is in it. And [vice-presidential candidate, Alaska Gov. Sarah] Palin will almost certainly play a role."
For Schnur, the fight for the soul of the party will not come down to social conservatives versus moderates but how the party structures a future economic policy.
"More important than the ongoing debate between social conservatives and moderates is the debate over what consists of economic conservatism going forward," he said. "One group believes Reaganism as an economic philosophy is just as valid today as it was in 1980. On the other side is an emerging group who are more populist and believe the party needs to better respond to the problems facing voters."
Schnur's short list of future party leaders also included Palin, as well as Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.