PARKER: Is GOP ready to play smarter? | The Asbury Park Press | APP.com WASHINGTON — The headline on Democratic strategist Paul Begala’s recent Newsweek essay dodged subtlety: “The Stupid Party.” “Republicans used to admire intelligence. But now they’re dumbing themselves down,” was the subhead. Democrats couldn’t agree more. And quietly, many Republicans share the sentiment. They just can’t seem to stop themselves. Republicans aren’t really stupid, of course, and Begala acknowledges this. But, as he also pointed out, the conservative brain trust once led by William F. Buckley has been supplanted by talk radio hosts who love to quote Buckley (and boast of his friendship), but who do not share the man’s pedigree or his nimble mind. Moreover, where Buckley tried to rid the GOP of fringe elements, notably the John Birch Society, today’s conservatives have let them back in. Meanwhile, the big tent fashioned by Ronald Reagan has become bilious with the hot air of religious fervor. No one was more devout than the very-Catholic Buckley, but you didn’t see him convening revivals in the public square. Nor is it likely he would he have embraced fundamentalist views that increasingly have forced the party into a corner where science and religion can’t coexist. Scientific skepticism, the engine that propels intellectual inquiry, has morphed into skepticism of science fueled by religious certitude. In this strange world, it is heresy to express concern about, for example, climate change — or even to suggest that human behavior may be a contributing factor.