THE GOP PURGE CLAIMS ANOTHER VICTIM…. Arguably the most significant election result yesterday wasn’t found in one of the statewide contests; it was an incumbent Republican congressman getting trounced in a primary runoff.

South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis has been bounced from his longtime seat by a well-known prosecutor after challengers questioned the Republican’s conservative credentials.

Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg won the GOP primary runoff Tuesday.

Inglis has always scored well with conservative organizations. But his challengers this year painted him as a liberal who voted for Wall Street and banking bailouts in 2008.

It wasn’t close — despite having represented the area for 12 years, Inglis lost by a ridiculous 42-point margin, 71% to 29%.

Given the one-sided nature of the results, it’s tempting to think Inglis must have been caught up in some devastating scandal, since incumbents in good standing just don’t get humiliated like this often. But Inglis’ only crime was taking on a moderate, pragmatic tone, which led Republicans to revolt.

I emphasize “tone” because Inglis had a very conservative voting record, and scored well among the far-right organizations that grade lawmakers on their positions.

But Inglis expressed a willingness to work with Democrats on energy policy; he urged his constituents not to take Glenn Beck too seriously; he thought Joe Wilson was wrong to heckle the president during a national address; and he said his main focus as a lawmaker was to find “solutions” to problems. Last year, Inglis said the Republican Party has a chance to “lose the stinking rot of self-righteousness” and “to understand we are all in need of some grace.”

And as a result, Republicans turned on Inglis and he lost by 42 points. He was a conservative Republican in a conservative Republican district, but the GOP base decided he simply wasn’t right-wing enough for their voracious appetites.

There’s been some media interest this year in ideological “purges,” with unhinged activists driving reasonable policymakers from their posts. We’ve seen it repeatedly with Republicans over the last year — Arlen Specter, Dede Scozzafava, Charlie Crist, Bob Bennett — with the party showing no tolerance for mainstream GOP officials who fail to toe the right-wing line in every instance.

To my mind, Inglis is the most outrageous example yet, given that his voting record made him a reliable conservative ally, and his greatest sin — voting for the financial industry bailout — led him to take the same position on the same issue as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.

The goal, apparently, is to create a smaller, more rigid, less reasonable Republican Party, which discourages diversity of thought and even a constructive tone.

Inglis’ humiliating defeat also sends a message to Republican lawmakers who might consider constructive lawmaking: don’t do it. The GOP base doesn’t want responsible leaders who’ll try to solve problems; it wants hard-right ideologues.

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.