It's been a while since Wisconsin sent Joe McCarthy to the U.S. Senate where he became our 20th century embarrassment.

We're still living down McCarthy's disregard for Americans' constitutional rights and his witch hunt that recklessly ruined the lives of countless U.S. citizens.

He still makes the lists that rank the worst senators in American history.

Joe's been gone a long time. After his fellow senators censured him for his brazen irresponsibility, he wound up drinking himself to death. His memory lives on, though, in the word "McCarthyism," the act of unfairly accusing someone of nefarious behavior with no evidence.

Alas, I'm afraid Wisconsin has managed to send a new McCarthy to the Senate. Ron Johnson hasn't gained the notoriety McCarthy's "Red Scare" produced back in the 1950s, but he's obviously working on it.

The Wisconsin senator who knocked off Russ Feingold in the Tea Party revolt of 2010 is knee-deep in the Donald Trump-Ukraine debacle. Even though he could wind up being a juror in a Trump impeachment trial as a U.S. senator, he has been unabashedly supporting the president. Johnson was a major player in the machinations surrounding Trump's ask of a "favor" from Ukraine in return for the U.S. sending military aid to the country.

The favor, of course, was an investigation by Ukraine of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

It's not surprising that Republican Johnson would side with Republican Trump, but the way he's been doing it is nothing short of scandalous — as in Joe McCarthy scandalous.

Before Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman even appeared before the Intelligence Committee's public meetings last week, Johnson disparaged the Iraq War hero and security council specialist and questioned his credibility.

"A significant number of bureaucrats and staff members within the executive branch have never accepted President Trump as legitimate and resent his unorthodox style and his intrusion onto their 'turf,' " Johnson declared in a letter to committee members. "They react by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office. It is entirely possible that Vindman fits this profile."

Not a scintilla of proof. Just innuendo the way Joe McCarthy mastered it.

He also questioned the motivations of the whistleblower who was the first to raise concerns about Trump's request of a "favor" from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The insinuation is that the person was part of what Johnson and Trump see as the "deep state," the purported bureaucratic underground out to get Trump. Again, just charges, no proof.

He sees the whole impeachment process as a "left-wing" plot to get Trump.

Funny, Johnson wasn't bashful about suggesting that Hillary Clinton be punished before the 2016 election. As "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd pointed out when Johnson was a guest two weeks ago, the Wisconsin senator had accused Clinton of a "high crime and misdemeanor" because of the email controversy.

Joe McCarthy, move over. Ron Johnson wants to join you on demagoguery row.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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