Arizona Sen. John McCain on Sunday brushed off the idea that Donald Trump could be perceived as a "serious" Republican presidential contender, arguing that while the business magnate seemed to be "having a lot of fun," the GOP had "very serious" candidates in the field who would be focusing on more serious issues.
Trump, who in recent months has raised his political profile by questioning President Obama's U.S. citizenship - and, more recently, suggesting that Mr. Obama was not academically qualified to get into Columbia University and Harvard Law School - has been harshly criticized for lobbing what many perceive to be racially-driven attacks against the president.
Now, a number of Republicans are distancing themselves from both the "Celebrity Apprentice" host and his theories about the president's background.
"I think Mr. Trump is having a lot of fun," McCain told CBS' Bob Schieffer, during an appearance on "Face the Nation," noting that it's "pretty clear he enjoys the limelight.
"We have very serious candidates," McCain continued. "I think that [if] Mr. Trump wants to run, he's welcome to run."
McCain said he would not "accuse" Trump of playing the "race card" in his recent suggestions that Mr. Obama may not have been qualified to get into Harvard, but emphasized that presidential candidates should be more focused on discussions around the U.S. economy - not Mr. Obama's college transcript.
"All of this is so unnecessary," McCain said. "With unemployment where it is, with the challenges we face, let's not have a national conversation about that. Let's have the national conversation about the upcoming debt limit which is going to be the subject of many of your shows in the next few weeks. That's what we ought to be focusing our attention on."
But Michael Eric Dyson, an author and professor at Georgetown University, did not shy away from categorizing the nature of Trump's recent statements.
"This is racism by inference," he said on "Face the Nation," of Trump's comments regarding Mr. Obama's educational background.
"The implication is that Obama is not up to snuff. You know, skepticism about black intelligence and suspicions about black humanity have gone hand-in-hand throughout the history of this country in feeding the perception that black people don't quite measure up," he said, adding that Trump was promoting "conspiracy theories, half-hearted truths, [and] factual errors" to delegitimize the president's "unimpeachable intellectual credentials.
"I think this is shameful and it's sad," Dyson added.
Michael Gerson, a conservative columnist and former member of the Bush White House, speculated that Trump was lodging such accusations against Mr. Obama to deflect attention from what he saw as his own questionable conservative credentials.
"I think Donald Trump is using this for a political purpose as well," he told Schieffer on "Face the Nation." "He's trying to cover the fact that he is neither a Republican nor a conservative."
"I mean, he supported single payer health care reform, to the left of Barack Obama," Gerson added.
"He's using these issues genuinely to appeal to the worst parts of the Republican coalition in order to pretend he's something that he's not. That is a transparent fraud."
Still, Mr. Obama has in recent days appeared to enjoy taking shots at Trump's claims.
At the White House Correspondents' dinner on Saturday, the president joked about Trump's recent push to get Mr. Obama to release his long-form birth certificate.
"I know that he's taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than The Donald," Mr. Obama joked at the dinner. "And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter - like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?"
"It was a good comedy act but also a good strategy," Gerson told Schieffer, of Mr. Obama's remarks. "You know, anything done to humiliate Donald Trump may make it more likely for him to run."
"Any increase in the likelihood that Trump is going to run is good for the president, because every minute that Trump spends on the national stage is a minute that a serious Republican is not on that stage," he added.
McCain said he did not think Trump would be able to successfully make himself the face of the Republican Party.
"I think he may try," McCain said, "but I don't think that's going to happen."