It’s generally assumed, nationally as well as down in Georgia, that one of the major sources of drama on this Primary Day is whether Jack Kingston or Karen Handel makes a Senate runoff against presumed front-runner David Perdue. And you can bet those promoting the YORE (Year of the Republican Establishment) narrative are hoping for Kingston to make the cut. Kingston, you see, by virtue of the endorsement he received from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with his long record as a congressional appropriator, is a “pragmatist,” while Handel, endorsed by Sarah Palin and Erick Erickson, is a “true conservative,” a “conservative reformer,” or even a “Tea Party candidate.”

But the more closely you look at it all, the more conflated these labels get. Kingston has run an intensely ideological campaign, attacking welfare recipients, dredging up the old wingnut Fair Tax chesnut, and incessantly attacking Perdue for his past support of the Common Core educational standards initiative (supposedly a top priority of his Chamber benefactors). Before her 2010 gubernatorial campaign and her antichoice martyrdom at the Komen Foundation, Handel was about as “Establishment” a figure as you could imagine, a statewide elected official from the most moderate GOP area of the state (Atlanta’s Fulton County), and a protege of Gov. Sonny Perdue–a national leader, BTW, in Common Core. In her savage and very narrowly unsuccessful 2010 runoff campaign against Nathan Deal, she was constantly attacked from the right, being almost literally demonized by the Georgia Right to Life organization for supporting a rape/incest exception from a hypothetical abortion ban and opposing a restriction on IV fertilization clinics. Opponents also dug up supposed acts of friendliness towards “homosexuals” from her service on the Fulton County Commission (attacks that have now been renewed by flailing candidate Phil Gingrey).

The Deal camp was especially aggrieved by Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Handel in 2010. Here’s a quote from a 2010 WaPo story I found yesterday:

“[W]hat it does is, it makes Republicans say, well, maybe we do need to rethink … Sarah Palin, as somebody who does shoot from the hip a little bit too much,” he added.

Asked if he’d rather Palin butt out of contested primaries altogether, he said yes.

“Well, yes, I wish she will because what she is doing is dividing the Republican Party at a time when we don’t need to be divided,” he said. He added that in his opinion Handel was “clearly the more moderate person in the race.”

The Deal supporter so quoted was Jack Kingston.

So who’s the “pragmatic” candidate and who’s the “true conservative” in the Kingston/Handel rivalry? Hard to say. Both of them, and the entire field, incessantly stress their conservatism, their “true” conservatism, their exemplary, unshakable conservatism. And they all accuse each other of past, present or incipient disloyalty to the Holy Cause and its creed of destroying Obamacare, gutting federal domestic spending, wiping out inconveniences to Job Creators, lowering high-end taxes, recriminalizing abortion and “defending traditional marriage.” And no matter who makes the runoff against Perdue, they will drag him and themselves into another round of ideological oath-taking and fiery perorations to “the base” during a long contest headed to a low-turnout July election.

In this context, who’s the “Establishment” candidate? It really doesn’t matter.

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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.