Perdue, Kingston aren’t being honest about themselves

Jack Kingston and David Perdue are not who they pretend to be.

Neither man is a Tea Party Republican, even though they’re spending millions of dollars trying to play that part for TV. Neither man believes some of the nonsense that they’re forced to spout to try to win their party’s Senate nomination. Their play-acting is contradicted by their own biographies, which betray them as establishment-type figures whose first instinct is to make the system work, not to tear it down.

That has been Perdue’s record in the business world; until fairly recently, it was also Kingston’s record as a longtime Washington insider.

But the tragedy of the modern Republican Party is that candidates who want to make things work are forced to deny their own best qualities to get elected. We saw that happen to Mitt Romney, and we’re seeing it happen again in the Georgia Senate race. The base of the modern GOP doesn’t want candidates who will make Washington work better; it is completely and totally invested in making Washington fail. At that, they’ve been brilliantly successful.

Look at the polls. According to Gallup, just 7 percent of Americans say they have confidence in Congress. Sad as that is, the sadder part is that such a record low rating is justified. Immigration, transportation, defense reform, tax reform, income inequity — Congress is doing nothing about any of it.

In that same poll, a mere 30 percent of Americans say they have confidence in the Supreme Court as an institution, another record low. Only 29 percent of Americans say they have confidence in the presidency, which is just slightly above the low of 25 percent recorded in 2007. While Gallup’s numbers go back only as far as 1991, it’s hard to believe that overall public confidence in our system of government has ever been lower. It’s a crisis.

In a healthy political environment, candidates would respond to a crisis like that by promising to go to Washington and fix things. But you don’t hear that kind of talk, particularly not from conservative Republicans. It’s more like: “Making Washington work? Why would you want that?”

The nihilism runs so deep that Republicans don’t dare to express faith even in the leadership of their own party. When asked, neither Perdue nor Kingston will admit to supporting GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell; Perdue even promises point-blank to try to remove McConnell. In the House it’s the same story: Most Georgia Republicans running for open congressional seats say they oppose John Boehner’s re-election as speaker.

It’s remarkable: Both Boehner and McConnell have aggressively pushed the Tea Party agenda on issues ranging from the debt ceiling to Obamacare, relenting only when the alternative was the complete collapse of the government. But the fact that they relented at all — the fact that they allowed the system to function even marginally — makes them tainted.

Again, neither Kingston nor Perdue comes by this destructive attitude naturally. They’re systems men, not anarchists. But as we’ve seen much too often in recent years, that kind of play-acting has an effect. Over time, you become the person — or the political party — that you thought you were merely pretending to be.

And then you’re trapped.