HUCKABEE’S ADVICE…. The National Council for a New America, the Republicans’ rebranding initiative, seems to have made a deliberate effort to downplay the party’s social agenda. When it unveiled a list of broad policy priorities last week, there were no references to abortion, gays, state-sponsored religion, etc., suggesting party leaders don’t see the culture war as the key to long-term success.

The religious right is, not surprisingly, not at all pleased. Yesterday, Mike Huckabee raised his own concerns.

In an interview with the California newspaper The Visalia Times-Delta, Huckabee said the GOP would only further decline in influence should it alienate social conservatives — largely considered the most energetic and loyal faction of the party.

“Throw the social conservatives the pro-life, pro-family people overboard and the Republican party will be as irrelevant as the Whigs,” he said in reference to the American political party that largely disbanded in the mid 1800s.

“They’ll basically be a party of gray-haired old men sitting around the country club puffing cigars, sipping brandy and wondering whatever happened to the country. That will be the end of the party,” he said in the interview published Thursday.

Some of this is probably over-dramatized. The GOP leaders pondering re-branding aren’t likely to literally reject the religious right movement’s concerns; they’re just more likely to stop pretending they care. One assumes the party’s official platform will still have plenty of nutty culture-war content; the only thing that will disappear is the pretense that the party will fight aggressively in support of these measures.

But Huckabee’s point isn’t wrong. If the religious-right crowd no longer feels welcome or valued in the Republican Party, and the GOP is left with a country-club base, it’s not likely to do well in national elections. It might as well be “the end of the party.”

On the other hand, if the Republican Party takes the culture warriors seriously, and signals to the rest of the country that the GOP is dominated by far-right activists who are principally concerned with gays, abortion, Terri Schiavo, and state-sponsored religion, the party will remain stuck where it is now. And that’s not a good place to be.

It’s quite a conundrum. Good luck to the whole gang.

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.