The GOP#039;s incredible shrinking quot;big tentquot;

The realities of the Republican Party frequently conflict with its public relations (which may explain why hacks and spinsters are so valued within the party). While paying ample lip-service to limited government, constitutionalism and Judeo-Christian morality, Republican actions-on a personal and collective level-consistently fail to advance those respectable principles.

Perhaps the greatest discrepancy between the supposed and the actual stems from the bogus claim that Republicans operate a “big tent” party wherein a broad spectrum of right-of-center politics are accepted. That assertion has been standard mantra for a while now, but despite having been around the block, it remains mostly uncontested.

Rather than tolerating unorthodoxy, Republicans are notorious for enforcing a lockstep march wherein any hint of ideological deviation is met with punishment, or even excommunication.

Such rigidity tends to manifest itself in obvious ways during election cycles. This year has been no exception.

Watching the recent Republican debates, you could almost taste the establishment candidates’ contempt for the likes of Rep. Ron Paul, whose nineteenth century conservatism is at odds with the party’s current tack. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee has been similarly assailed by GOP bigwigs, who are repelled by his rustic-though warranted-suspicion of moneyed interests.

The triumph of “maverick” Sen. John McCain has also induced hysteria in prominent Republican circles. However, the senator’s exhausting struggle to keep the war effort afloat has earned him a bit of much-needed slack.

The GOP’s institutionalized resistance to outsiders is, of course, nothing new. Unlike Democrats, who are excited by dark horses and long shots (from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama), Republicans harbor considerable hostility for those independent-minded colleagues who cast an eye towards the White House.

McCain’s upset in the 2000 New Hampshire primary shocked the establishment. Desperate to defend and forward an elder statesman’s line, the party resorted to despicable mudslinging. Dirty work sunk the Arizonan in South Carolina, delivering the nomination into George W. Bush’s hands. The tactics employed against McCain make Sen. Hillary Clinton’s anti-Obama whisper campaign look like child’s play. Pat Buchanan was smeared as a know-nothing in 1996 by the same clique.

The GOP’s narrowmindedness extends far beyond elections, too. Frankly speaking, today’s Republican political-media leadership is a brittle and unadventurous monolith, it eschews critical thinking and evinces a worrisome unwillingness to consider even the most modest paradigm shift.

Ideological crystallization began in the 1980s-when conservatives ascended to power with Ronald Reagan-but only reached completion following the neo-conservative putsch earlier this decade.

During that stretch, there arose a knot of GOP handlers. Ensconced primarily in Washington and Manhattan, this slick brain trust gradually produced the rigid mold into which all Republicans must now fit.

The present right-wing ideal-an unabashed hawk with Wall Street and White House loyalties, nasty spending habits and passing interest in the Bill of Rights-is relentlessly praised by the party’s house media, from Rush Limbaugh to National Review.

In enforcing this Republican model, the partisans of the “Reagan coalition” (a strange term, since much 21st century GOP policy would horrify the Gipper) have, very consciously, dismembered the Grand Old Party. Liberal, moderate and libertarian cadres-those old boys from New England, the urban northeast and mountain west-are increasingly viewed as heretical.

The net result of this hierarchically imposed orthodoxy is an ever-narrowing definition of what it means to be in, of or for the Republican or conservative movements. Obviously, that doesn’t bode well for recruiting efforts, particularly in the post-Bush era.

To make matters worse, the Democrats are transitioning into an expansionist party for the first time since the Dixiecrat exodus of the 1960s and ’70s. Republicans should be scared that activists like Markos Moulitsas (of DailyKos fame) have made, for example, repeated overtures to libertarians, a group once anathema to organized liberalism.

Happily, there’s evidence that “wayward” Republicans- are finally about to have their day. McCain’s narrow victory in the primaries suggests that the grassroots are disgruntled and itching to rock the boat.

Still, there’s no reason the believe that the Ann Coulter set is on its way out just yet. McCain has been forced to mute his once-vocal opinions on matters like campaign finance reform in order to appease the status quo Republicans.

The only chance for continued Republican dominance is a wide embrace of center-right America, with a focus on resuscitating party loyalty in the northeast and mountain west. This may require a popular groundswell. Disaffected Republican elements must speak-up and assert the legitimacy of their particular right-wing politics.

Given the internal troubles and external threats currently facing America, the need for a truly “big tent” right is of the utmost importance.

Yacht club grandees, libertarian decentralists, pro-labor traditionalists, America First isolationists, strict constitutionalists-these disparate factions may not have tons in common, but they can surely unite behind one slogan aimed at the current GOP brass: “It’s Our Party, Too-Give It Back!”