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A tale of two parties

With their presumptive presidential nominees now in place, the two major political parties face starkly different, and critical, challenges. The Democrats have already taken impressive steps toward internal unity approaching the Hillary Clinton campaign. The Republicans, meanwhile, are deep in disunity over the fallout of Donald Trump's selection and his divisive behavior.

The rapid response in Democratic ranks to Ms. Clinton's victories over Sen. Bernie Sanders in four of last Tuesday's six state primaries, including California, was breath-taking. Mr. Sanders quickly congratulated her, and while he pledged to his faithful followers that he would remain a candidate through the primary process and into Democratic National convention late next month, he vowed he would do all he could to make sure Mr. Trump never will reach the presidency.

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Upon returning east from California, Mr. Sanders paid a courteous call to President Barack Obama at the White House, where Mr. Obama praised his strong campaign effort that brought millions of new voters to the party. Then the Obama staff swiftly aired unequivocal remarks by the president endorsing Ms. Clinton in the most effusive terms, as Mr. Sanders held a round of cordial talks with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Vice President Joe Biden. It was a political minuet worthy of a master ballet impresario.

All this time, the Republicans continued to wallow in the mud of Mr. Trump's incredible campaign blunder that capped his own successful nomination run through the primaries. His pivot to a petty fight with the federal judge presiding over a civil suit alleging fraud by the defunct Trump University immediately threw him and his campaign onto the defensive. And Mr. Sanders is expected to meet with Ms. Clinton Tuesday night to see, as he told CBS' John Dickerson, "what kind of platform she is going to support and in fact how aggressive she is going to be in addressing the major crises that we face."

Mr. Trump alleged that the judge, an Indiana-born son of naturalized parents of Mexican heritage, could not preside fairly because Mr. Trump was planning to build a wall on the Mexican border. The reaction among leading Republicans who had reluctantly swallowed the Trump endorsement medicine was swift and harsh. House Speaker Paul Ryan labeled Mr. Trump's remark "the textbook definition of a racist comment."

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who also had endorsed Mr. Trump while figuratively holding his nose, swiftly withdrew his backing. Mr. Trump, who in a victory speech on primary night had assured his cheering followers, "I will never back down, and our country will never back down," insisted his remarks had been "misconstrued," and said he would have nothing more to say about the whole business. Republican calls for an apology to the judge soon were heard.

Mr. Trump's immediate strategy was to pivot to a full-throated attack on Ms. Clinton and her family's Clinton Foundation, as dismayed Republicans began to express buyer's remorse about their embrace of The Donald, and to wonder whether it was too late to find some exit from the political nightmare they had visited upon themselves.

At a gathering of Republicans in Utah sponsored by 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, there was continued musing over a possible third-party savior, and some Republicans hinted that Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson might fill the bill. But the fact remained that Donald Trump's undisciplined mouth had really gotten him and his party in what the former senior President George Bush once famously dubbed deep doo-doo.

As the 2016 campaign now slips into a brief coasting period until the Republican National Convention in Cleveland starting July 18, Hillary Clinton has the huge advantage of a distinctly optimistic launching pad to the general election of a Democratic Party clearly closing ranks behind her. Donald Trump, meanwhile, continues to dig himself an ever-deeper hole within the Republican Party he has hijacked from its own establishment wing, now increasingly hostile to him.

Mr. Trump's immense success in capturing the GOP nomination weeks before Ms. Clinton cemented her own party's nomination has now been squandered, and he is obliged to spend the weeks until the Cleveland convention trying to recover campaign momentum lost by his own undisciplined and politically suicidal remarks.

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Up to now, Mr. Trump's strength and appeal within angry Republican ranks has been his outspoken toughness and certainty on how his unquestionable business success will "make America great again." But as his loose tongue derogates some of the most basic American principles against racial and ethnic bigotry, he faces the fall campaign already perilously wounded as an undependable presidential nominee.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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