Gov. Chris Christie (Mel Evans/AP) Gov. Chris Christie (Mel Evans/AP)

While off-year elections suffer from a surfeit of interpretation, it’s hard not to see the victories of Christie and McAuliffe as sending a similar  message: Republicans must be moderate to win.

Mr. McAuliffe was a cipher of a candidate who was saved in the end by Mr. Cuccinelli’s reactionary social views. And Mr. Christie’s victory simply confirmed what we have known about Republicans in New Jersey since Clifford Case: Republicans must be moderates to win statewide. (See another governor named Christie Todd Whitman.)

But while the lessons of the 2013 gubernatorial elections may seem obvious to many, Republican zealots are unlikely to be among them. Waiting in the wings in Virginia as well as many other states are a new generation of  extremely conservative  activists are ready to put their ideals ahead of  any loyalty to party. And, while Chris Christie may be checking leases tonight on charter flights to Iowa and New Hampshire, his plain-speaking moderation will likely sound dissonant to those who still control the party’s energy and direction for the foreseeable future. They see themselves as revolutionaries and don’t sweat losing a battle here and there. They are focused on the war.