Under the norms of our political discourse, at least until fairly recently, “treason” is one of those words that’s used sparingly. It shouldn’t be thrown around casually, or used to describe anything other than deliberate betrayals of the United States.

And yet, the “t” word appears to be creeping into Republican rhetoric with increasing frequency, which is not at all a healthy development. Consider this exchange from last night’s debate.

WOLF BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, you also signed legislation in Utah that gave driving privileges to illegal immigrants. Was that a good idea?

JON HUNTSMAN: Well, first of all, let me say for Rick to say that you can’t secure the border I think is pretty much a treasonous comment.

Remember, of the eight candidates on the stage last night, Jon Huntsman is supposed to be the most reasonable. The moderate of the GOP field believes a simple acknowledgement about border security is “pretty much a treasonous comment.”

For the record, Huntsman isn’t just needlessly throwing around incendiary rhetoric, he’s also wrong. A lot of measures can be taken to secure the 2,000-mile swath of land between Mexico and the United States, and the Obama administration has arguably done more than any modern administration on this front. But the notion of a completely secure, air-tight border is, according to every credible expert, wildly unrealistic.

To appreciate this reality is not to make “a treasonous comment.” I can appreciate why Huntsman is eager to prove he’s every bit as crazy as his primary rivals, but after that display last night, it’s time for the political world to stop pretending this guy is Mr. Sensible. He’s not.

In the same debate, Rick Perry added, “I said that, if you are allowing the Federal Reserve to be used for political purposes, that it would be almost treasonous. I think that is a very clear statement of fact.”

In context, “used for political purposes” refers to efforts to improve the economy. In other words, Rick Perry believes the Fed chairman, by doing his job, would be engaged in “almost treasonous” misconduct.

Treason is a powerful word with a fairly specific meaning. If Republican presidential candidates would stop pretending it means “stuff we don’t like,” it’d represent a step up for the discourse.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.