Virtually every conservative leader claims to be for a “big tent” Republican Party. In 2008, Republicans believed that fighting the War on Terror was so paramount that Sen. Joe Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate, should be given a prime-time speaking role at their national convention due to his hawkish views. At that time Lieberman and most conservatives agreed on little more than foreign policy.

In contrast to Lieberman, that same year and at that same convention, Congressman Ron Paul was not allowed to enter the event despite the fact that most conservatives agreed with the libertarian firebrand on virtually everything except foreign policy. Yet, Paul’s presence was forbidden based primarily on his opposition to the war.

Contrary to conservative contention at the time, Lieberman’s inclusion was not evidence of a big-tent GOP but yet another example of the pup tent the Republican Party had become under George W. Bush. In their zeal for war, the GOP had become almost exclusively a single-issue party, as evidenced by Paul’s banishment. Most Republicans’ were pro-war, and they would often serve up emotionally charged rebuttals to anyone who dared challenge them.

But such conservatives have become a minority as the Right’s focus has shifted dramatically. Today, concerns about the country’s debt and out-of-control spending trump all else. Unlike the always questionable Bush foreign policy, the new budget-slashing rhetoric of the GOP has not only galvanized conservatives but has attracted support across the political spectrum. The Democrats now adjust their own rhetoric to reflect popular disenchantment with big government, and figures like Lieberman have lost much of the appeal they once had among Republicans. Meanwhile, Ron Paul is now a Tea Party darling.

Given the contrast between Bush’s Republican Party and the new Tea Party-tempered GOP, it seems there’s nothing wrong, per se, with being a single-issue party. It just depends on the issue.

Which makes the reaction by some conservatives toward the inclusion of the gay organization GOProud at the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C., all the more curious. CPAC mainstays like the Family Research Council and other groups, as well as South Carolina’s own Sen. Jim DeMint, are refusing to attend what has become the largest annual gathering of conservatives. I will be one of the speakers at the conference.

According to the Family Research Council spokesman Tom McClusky, “We’ve been very involved in CPAC for over a decade and have managed a couple of popular sessions. However, we will no longer be involved with CPAC because of the organization’s … movement away from conservative principles.”

Movement away from conservative principles? Wasn’t the entire Bush presidency, in which we saw the national debt and federal government double in size, a movement away from conservative principles? And yet social and religious conservatives were always Bush’s most reliable champions, particularly in their support of the Iraq War. The enthusiasm of social conservatives for Bush and his foreign policy was so strong that we witnessed the strange spectacle of evangelical leader Pat Robertson endorsing the socially liberal Rudy Giuliani for president during the 2008 Republican primaries. This was the same Giuliani who championed gay rights and regularly dressed in drag. His singular appeal to conservatives at that time was his hawkish views.

Yet now, some social conservatives seem ready to jump ship over the mere tolerance of homosexuals. When our greatest national threat was perceived to be radical Islam, social conservatives seemed more than willing to make questionable alliances with gay-friendly politicians. Now that many perceive our greatest threat to be an economic one, some social conservatives seem to believe that making alliances with gay-friendly groups somehow poses more of a threat than the debt itself. This is political schizophrenia.

For the record, I support most state and local measures that would make homosexuals more accepted in our society. That said, I also have tolerance for social conservatives who generally hold negative attitudes about homosexuals. Both views deserve to be discussed, debated, and heard. A truly big tent Republican Party must include members with different and often opposing positions. Yet, if the GOP is to remain a single-issue party, the issue of spending is a better coalition builder and more appealing to voters than permanent war.

A liberal friend told me recently that the Republican Party doesn’t stand for much more than hating gays and Arabs. If judging his comments exclusively by the actions of social conservatives who’ve chosen to boycott CPAC, it would be hard to tell him he’s wrong.

Jack Hunter served as a campaign assistant to Sen. Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul, during the midterm election. Southern Avenger commentaries can be heard every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.