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There’s this great scene from Law & Order where Detective Briscoe shows a victim’s picture to a prostitute. He asks whether she knew of anyone who had “dated” him.

“I didn’t, but he’s cute,” she says.

“You’ve been at this too long, honey.” Briscoe replies. “He’s dead.”

The political punditry seems unable to agree on whether Donald Trump’s candidacy will survive the billionaire’s latest barrage of rhetorical barbarities. We refer to his attacks on Fox News questioner Megyn Kelly and the infamous “blood” remark.

But all this presupposes that Trump is conducting a real, living candidacy rather than a mega-prank. By all appearances, he is using the Republican fringe’s high tolerance of — nay, appreciation for — off-the-wall comments to expand the Trump brand at no cost to Trump. The billionaire also seems to be whipping up the right wing’s hatred of establishments, including the Republican one, for fun and profit.

Face it. Some 24 million viewers didn’t tune in to the Fox News debate just to hear Trump say outrageous things. They wanted to see him make the other candidates suffer.

Trump’s performance led to his banishment from the subsequent RedState debate. Its organizer, Erick Erickson, explained, “I don’t want my daughter in the same room” as Trump.

Sounds chivalrous, but Erickson’s coat of armor is not without chinks. It was Erickson who attributed feminists’ anger to their “being too ugly to get a date.” And he called Michelle Obama a “Marxist harpy wife.”

That armor evidently needs repair, for Erickson now seems hurt by the pro-Trump blowback. “I have emails from people referring to Megyn Kelly as a ‘whore,'” he complained. “I have emails from people referring to me as ‘gay.’ I have emails referring to the president by the N-word and (saying) that Donald Trump is standing up to all of us.”

Imagine such sensitivity coming from the man who writes such blog posts as “Is Obama Shagging Hookers Behind the Media’s Back?” That’s when he’s not writing deep religious tracts.

This is the ballpark Republicans have been playing in. Trump may say things that are dumb and crude, but they’re no dumber or cruder than the musings of the right-wing spokesmen whom party leaders routinely court.

Erickson can portray himself as a bulwark against indecency, but he’s really been Trump’s warmup act. Without his and others’ normalization of lunatic statements, Trump would never have gotten as far as he has.

One feels for the respectable Republicans dragged into these environs. It was sad to see Ohio governor John Kasich pummeled at the Fox News debate for having humanely expanded Medicaid in his state. It was unfortunate but inevitable that someone (this time Rand Paul) would slam New Jersey governor Chris Christie for having publicly hugged President Obama. The context, some may remember, was the president’s visit and offer of federal help after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.

On the other hand, Christie and other Republicans had no problem sharing the stage with the likes of Erickson.

The Huffington Post last month moved its Trump coverage to the entertainment section from politics. Jay Rosen, a well-known media analyst, praised the decision as “the work of fed-up and free-thinking adults.”

But the move has irked political writers at The Washington Post. Are they merely defending their turf? Or have they been at this too long?

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate and businessman Donald Trump listens to a question at the first official GOP presidential candidates’ debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

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