In “Batman Begins” — the 2005 movie about the origins of the caped crusader — there is a group of villains who believe the city of Gotham is beyond saving and that the only way to fix it is to first destroy it.

As the Republican presidential race has worn on (and on), there are some within the party wondering — privately, of course — whether the only way for the party to face the growing divide between its moderate and conservative wings is for the 2012 election to be its Gotham moment.

“I’d personally enjoy all the ‘we can’t nominate another Republican In Name Only’ crowd getting a stomping by an incumbent with an 8.5 unemployment rate,” said one senior party strategist, granted anonymity to speak candidly, warning of nominating a strictly conservative candidate like former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

It’s happened before. In 1964, conservatives got their way when Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater beat out New York Gov. — and proud moderate — Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican nomination. Goldwater’s conservatism didn’t sit well with the country at large and Johnson won with 61 percent of the vote, the largest popular vote percentage in modern history.

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