Jim Galloway’s latest dispatch from the fever swamp that is the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Georgia is worthy of some broader attention:

To anyone who questions whether Rep. Phil Gingrey’s candidacy is being cheered by Washington Republicans, witness the opening minutes of Monday’s Senate forum.

Rep. Paul Broun, feared by some establishment types as being vulnerable to a general election upset, was pressed by a moderator on whether he thinks giving a free AR-15 to a supporter was actually such a good idea. He responded as he has throughout the campaign, touting his Second Amendment chops and saying “Georgia is a pro-gun state.”

It was Gingrey’s response, though, that turned heads. He suggested Broun’s gun giveaway was political pandering, and said that every candidate on the state was sufficiently pro-gun rights….

The other candidates didn’t take the bait. But Gingrey, in his closing, gave a glimpse at his pitch to out-conservative Broun.

“You need the right person to represent you – the most conservative candidate who can be elected in November.”

This, as connoisseurs of conservative politics know, is a restatement of the famous Buckley Rule articulated by the founder of National Review back in 1964. (Unfortunately for its value as received wisdom, it was developed in order to rationalize an endorsement of Barry Goldwater).

As applied to the Georgia Senate race by Gingrey, the Buckley Rule would suggest there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Paul Broun’s ideology–or even the practice of giving away military assault weapons to supporters–except that it might be a touch too zany for the general electorate.

Now it’s true that some Georgia Democrats say a little prayer for Broun before retiring each night. But Gingrey’s no piker at wingnuttery himself. It says a lot about the rightward drift of the GOP that a guy like Phil could be the Republican Establishment candidate in this race, and even more that general election numbers might be the only reason Republicans wouldn’t cheerfully put a wild man like Broun into the U.S. Senate.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.