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Last Saturday’s Republican debate in South Carolina reeked of desperation.

Candidates who have been unable to break into the lead in the presidential nominating process went after each other with a ferocity and hostility that would have been hard to watch but for the sheer force with which they were dismantling the GOP’s chances of gaining the White House in 2016, or perhaps ever.

The “You lie/No, you lie” exchanges, the vicious attacks on honorable records, the distortions and the gotcha sound bites had to leave even Republican viewers wondering whether any of these guys are fit to be president. And even if they are, who would believe it?

Led by ringmaster Donald Trump, they are engaged in character assassinations that will linger long after one of them is nominated as the Republican standard bearer. And it’s not just on the debate stage; millions are being spent to scorch the good names and records of fellow Republicans.

They’ve taken it beyond the point of credible reconciliation once the primaries are over and the general campaigning begins. After the bitterness on display Saturday night, could Jeb Bush and Donald Trump ever stand together in harmony should one of them win the nomination?

Democratic strategists must be already piecing together the sound bites into campaign commercials that let the Republicans do their mud slinging for them.

This is no way to win the White House, and if Republicans don’t see that soon, they won’t.

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