KATHLEEN PARKER TAKES ON THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT…. In September, Kathleen Parker, a conservative syndicated columnist, raised quite a few eyebrows when she explained that Sarah Palin had no business running for national office. “If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself,” Parker said, before urging Palin to quit the Republican ticket. She was rewarded with literally thousands of angry right-wing emails.

Parker, to her enormous credit, continues to push back against conservative orthodoxy. In a Washington Post piece today, she encouraged the Republican Party to realize that its religious-right base is a leading cause for the party’s electoral troubles.

[T]he evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn’t soon cometh.

Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth — as long as we’re setting ourselves free — is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

The choir has become absurdly off-key, and many Republicans know it.

But they need those votes! So it has been for the Grand Old Party since the 1980s or so, as it has become increasingly beholden to an element that used to be relegated to wooden crates on street corners.

Parker is surprisingly candid in her assessment, criticizing the Republican Party for having “surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows.” By becoming the party of the Dobsons and Robertsons of the world, the GOP, Parker insists, has alienated “other people of faith (those who prefer a more private approach to worship), as well as secularists and conservative-leaning Democrats who otherwise might be tempted to cross the aisle.”

She concludes that the Republican Party may ultimately “die out unless religion is returned to the privacy of one’s heart where it belongs.”

On the substance, I think the GOP would be wise to take Parker’s advice seriously. The party is likely to do the opposite, but presenting itself to a modern, diverse population as the party of religious fundamentalists and, to borrow a phrase, “agents of intolerance,” will help Republicans thrive in the Bible Belt — and nowhere else.

As for Parker, I shudder to think how many emails she’ll get once this column makes the rounds. She’s offering the GOP some very sound advice, but that won’t matter after the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family make her their new Public Enemy #1.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.