Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) stands between Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) during a news briefing following a Feb. 14, 2020 meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyivv, Ukraine. (Shutterstock)
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) stands between Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) during a news briefing following a Feb. 14, 2020 meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyivv, Ukraine. (Shutterstock)

Tom Nelson says the Twitter age won’t save Ron Johnson.

It has been 66 years since Outagamie County’s Joseph McCarthy was censured by his colleagues in the US Senate. It was a big deal. His censure was just the sixth of a US senator in the republic’s history. 

Senators had previously been censured for reasons that ranged from the serious—disclosing classified documents, to the bizarre—fist fights on the senate floor. McCarthy’s fate is worth noting in the era of Donald Trump because the latter owes his playbook to the former, as Larry Tye argues in his acclaimed book, Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy. 

McCarthy had no bigger platform than the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of which he chaired. McCarthy tormented elected officials (his predecessor, Robert LaFollette, Jr. died by suicide, perhaps to avoid McCarthy’s wrath), flogged state department officials and tried humiliating decorated military heroes, characterizing them as communist sympathizers or worse.

The contemporary analogy does not end with our 45th President. Rather, it comes full circle, returning to America’s Dairyland.

Sen. Ron Johnson chairs the Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee—the parent to McCarthy’s subcommittee—where he wields his gavel in the spirit of McCarthy. He has hounded Joe Biden’s son Hunter like a bulldog on an ankle bone for the purpose of embarrassing his father, something the Oshkosh Republican readily admits. When it has come to Russian interference in the 2016 election, Johnson has defended McCarthy’s progeny to the hilt. And when top military brass has gone before his committee, Johnson has accorded them the same disrespect McCarthy did Joseph Welch, the US Army chief counsel.

McCarthy reached his pinnacle of notoriety at his US Senate-Army hearings in June of 1954 where he was crushed by Welch. (“At long last, have you no sense of decency.”) The next month, his colleagues introduced a resolution of censure and by year’s end he found himself to be a pariah of Capitol Hill, a shadow of his former self.

Had the Senator from Grand Chute possessed a Twitter account and email list, things might have turned out differently. He might have rallied support for standing up to the Washington politicians, raised millions, and formed a presidential exploratory committee.

But that was a different time, when character counted and not every political conflagration was meant to be a fight to the death.

Johnson may have his Twitter account, but it won’t save him from the political laws of gravity: what goes up, must come down.

Should Democrats take control of the US Senate, Johnson’s witch hunt could face the same fate as McCarthy’s.  Heck, senators have lost their jobs for lesser offenses.

Tom Nelson is the Outagamie County Executive and a former State Representative