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Republicans must disinfect political process by disowning Trump

What do you do with a problem like The Donald? Probably not since the U.S. Senate in 1954 censured the odious Joseph McCarthy for his reckless witch hunt for communists in the Eisenhower administration has such a bull in a china shop rummaged through American politics.

McCarthy was put in his place by a member of his own party, the mild-mannered Sen. Ralph Flanders of Vermont, who offered a resolution that said simply: "Resolved, that the conduct of the senator from Wisconsin, Mr. McCarthy, is unbecoming a member of the United States Senate, is contrary to senatorial traditions, and tends to bring the Senateinto disrepute, and such conduct is hereby condemned."

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The indictment was an unspecific broad brush against the loose cannon from Wisconsin, but at the time no specific details were needed to explain to the Senate or much of the American public. McCarthy, as chairman of a Senate investigations subcommittee, sweepingly condemned officials in the State Department, the military and other targets as communist sympathizers or past or current members of the Communist Party.

A select committee of three Republicans and three Democrats, chaired by circumspect Republican Sen. Arthur Watkins of Utah, was composed to consider a bill of particulars related to Flanders' resolution. It recommended censuring McCarthy for abuse of the committee and for his insults of an Army general in the Army-McCarthy hearings, who he said was unfit to wear the uniform.

The Senate approved the censure by a vote of 67 to 22, and McCarthy, by this time in the grip of alcoholism and ill health, died about two and half years later, diagnosed with hepatitis. He was given a funeral service in the Senate chamber, but the stain of his slanderous service indelibly clung to his place in history.

Less than two decades after McCarthy's censure, another Republican, Richard Nixon, was similarly brought to disgrace. A small group of prominent leaders in his party came to the White Houseand told him point-blank that he didn't have enough support in Congress to avoid impeachment in the Watergate scandal and associated crimes.

Sens. Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott and Rep. John Rhodes informed him that a special House committee was about to approve impeachment charges against him, forcing the first presidential resignation in the nation's history.

Both McCarthy and Nixon were elected public officials, subject to legal and political pressures and punishment. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is a private citizen, and neither the Republican Party nor another political or governmental entity has the muscle to derail him.

Mr. Trump, in arousing the anger of those that share his extreme anti-immigration and anti-government views, is pitting his personal celebrity and biases against the political process, rallying the like-minded to hijack that process.

So far, the weak and splintered Grand Old Party apparatus and would-be presidential nominees have largely cowered in the face of Mr. Trump's publicity and bombast blitz. They hope he will go away. The distinctly low-wattage party national chairman, Reince Priebus, has demonstrated his lack of imagination and sense of reality by pleading with Mr. Trump to tone down his message.

As for the other Republican presidential aspirants, most have said that Mr. Trump's tirade against Mexicans as rapists and other kinds of criminals is "not helpful" or otherwise not in keeping with the party's thinking.

One of them, presidential longshot Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has flatly called Mr. Trump "a demagogue" poisoning the Republican brand. But few others have been bold enough to agree publicly.

The willingness of the party hierarchy to allow the various television organizations to dictate which Republican candidates will be permitted to take part in the approaching debates, based on standings in certain public-opinion polls, makes a mockery of the process.

In all, the ability of Donald Trump, a man conspicuously unqualified to be president, to take captive the run-up to the 2016 presidential campaign, is reducing the entire political scene to a joke. The phenomenon is detrimental not only to the Republican Party but also to the single most important civic event in our society every four years.

Any GOP presidential hopeful who cannot find the courage to denounce Trump does not deserve consideration himself for occupying the Oval Office.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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