by Sam Stein

Speaking publicly for one of the first times since the end of the presidential campaign, John McCain's campaign manager Steve Schmidt painted a dire portrait of the state of the Republican Party, arguing that the GOP has largely been co-opted by its religious elements.

"If you put public policy issues to a religious test, you risk becoming a religious party," Schmidt declared. "And in a free country, a political party cannot be viable in the long term if it is seen as a sectarian party."

The remarks came in a passionate, roughly 20-minute speech before the Log Cabin Republican's national convention, in which Schmidt laid out the case for a far more open party -- one which did not consider gay marriage to be a "litmus test" issue. And while he made it a purpose not to offend social conservatives -- they "remain an indispensable part of the Republican coalition," he said -- Schmidt did not hide his concerns that religion had become the predominant thread of the GOP.

"If you reject [gay marriage] on religious grounds, I respect that," he said. "I respect anyone's religious views. However, religious views should not inform the public policy positions of a political party because... when it is a religious party, many people who would otherwise be members of that party are excluded from it because of a religious belief system that may be different. And the Republican Party ought not to be that. It ought to be a coalition of people under a big tent."...........

...........Indeed, the shrinking of the GOP tent, he prophesied, was due not to one individual actor but from a quasi-religious political brand that was "off-putting to many people." That held true whether in the case of Terry Schaivo, which Schmidt called "disastrous for the Republican Party," or gay marriage.

"If a party is seen as anti-gay than that is injurious to its candidates in states like California, Oregon or Washington or New Jersey or New York, increasingly even in states like Virginia and the mid-south," he said. "And to be a national party we need to be competitive in the northeast, for instance. I will argue that our party was a richer party when we had people, by no means conservatives but republicans, like Christie Whitman and George Pataki and all the members of Congress who have since gone extinct."


link to full article - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/0..._n_188354.html