The national Republican Party is undergoing a breathtaking meltdown. All their remaining paths forward lead to chaos, whether through a Donald Trump nomination or a donnybrook convention this summer.

At the root of the problem, of course, is Trump himself, who has unleashed the crazy uncle segment of America in a way that we haven’t seen since George Wallace’s “law and order and segregation” campaigns in 1968 and 1972. Wallace, for those of you who missed that show, was an Old South Democrat who won five Southern states in 1968 and was running even stronger in 1972 before he was paralyzed in a horrifying assassination attempt.

With Trump, the Republican Party has never fielded a presidential candidate who is so ill-equipped to be commander in chief and so dangerous to national security and internal harmony. In recent interviews, he has shown a frightening ignorance of foreign policy, including a willingness to consider using tactical nuclear weapons in populated areas of the Middle East and supporting the proliferation of nuclear weapons in places like South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Compared to this Republican year of dismay, the Democratic contest has been relatively benign. It will get testier as the race moves to New York, which could be the last real mathematical chance for Bernie Sanders to win the nomination. But while there are fierce differences between the two candidates, it hasn’t gotten personal in the way that Trump’s attacks on Ted Cruz’s wife have gotten.

Last week, in Wisconsin, the Republican candidates all but burned the last remaining bridge to any future unity ticket, after withdrawing their pledges to support the eventual nominee. But on the Democratic side, the bridge that connects the older and more centrist elements of the party, led by Hillary Clinton, with Sanders’ younger army for real change, is still intact, if under occasional shelling.

That has left Democrats with an opportunity that isn’t open to Republicans: to create a unity ticket that would bring the factions of the party together for a big win in November.

The real question for Democrats is whether either of the candidates, once nominated, will have the strength and humility to understand that their wing of the party can’t win this race by itself.

Sanders’ challenge is that he is a lifelong outsider and something of a loner who, until this year, wasn’t even part of the Democratic Party. Clinton, on the other hand, is a too-comfortable insider who surrounds herself with like-minded advisers. But she’s also the beneficiary of exactly the kind of leadership that will be required of the nominee, having been made secretary of state by her rival, Barack Obama.

The greatest danger to the Democratic candidate this fall will be overconfidence. Here’s the scenario in which Clinton, in particular, could lose the election to Trump if she becomes the nominee, despite holding wide polling leads today:

She completely ignores the real lesson of Sanders’ emergence and his energized support, which is that people are fed up with 1 percent of Americans sucking the wealth out of their paychecks and country.

She gets stuck in the past, circling the wagons with old allies who want to rerun Bill’s glory days campaigns.

She says all the necessary and nice things about Sanders but still leaves his supporters sitting on their hands.

After an awkward convention, an outwardly celebratory but uninspired Democratic Party limps into the fall,

Clinton runs a lackluster race, as she did in early 2008 and this year.

Trump reinvents himself into a champion of the people hit hardest by the changing economy, and wins enough swing states like Florida and Ohio to squeak out a victory.

To avoid that scenario, both candidates will need to abandon the old bromides about picking a vice-presidential candidate from a swing state or from the South. The presence of Trump and Sanders in this race, at this stage, tells us that the old rules aren’t in play this year.

If Clinton becomes the nominee, her first act of real leadership should be to ask Bernie Sanders to become her partner on the ticket. If Sanders wins, he should immediately extend the same offer to Clinton.

Either ticket will all but guarantee a Democratic victory in November against a historically weak opponent.

Perhaps equally important, it will help build a more robust future for the Democratic Party and the country.

If Clinton and Sanders aren’t big enough to do that, give Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts a call.

Alan Caron is the owner of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” and “Reinventing Maine Government.” He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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