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MARTIN SCHRAM: N.H.results back parties into a corner

DARYL CAGLE/CAGLECARTOONS.COM
DARYL CAGLE/CAGLECARTOONS.COM

New Hampshire's primary voters have resoundingly presented America's political parties with two unprecedented, very different dilemmas.

Granite Staters overwhelmingly made Donald Trump the Republicans' presidential front-runner -- he beat runner-up John Kasich by a 2-to-1 margin. Now the Grand Old Party's dilemma is their front-runner is prone to be uncontrollably foul-mouthed. Indeed, he has proven himself an un-presidential embarrassment to any parents who may have brought young children to his events to see a future president.

New Hampshire voters also gave the Democrats a landslide victor, neighbor Bernie Sanders, of Vermont -- he defeated Hillary Clinton by an 18-point margin.

The Democrats' dilemma is that party pros fear Sanders is too leftist to be elected president and could lead the party into devastating, across-the-board defeats comparable to the routs suffered under the leadership of the two Georges, McGovern and Custer.

Clinton's future unclear

It remains uncertain whether the Democrats' just-dethroned yearlong consensus favorite, Hillary Clinton, will be able to recalibrate her strategic appeal and rekindle the flame of impassioned support that flickered and died in New Hampshire. Clinton, long a front-runner to be America's first female president, overwhelmingly lost the support of young females to the 74-year-old liberal revolutionary, Sanders.

And this brings us to the Democrats' bottom line dilemma: Nationally, the Democrats have the weakest bench of alternative presidential prospects either major party has had since World War II.

If Clinton falters or is undone by the FBI's probe of the private email she used as secretary of state, it is unclear there can be any viable alternative to Sanders. (Vice President Joe Biden, who opted out following the death of his son Beau, could conceivably reconsider.)

Meanwhile, both parties have landslide victors who were never longtime proud card-carrying members of the parties they are now fronting. Trump was a longtime Democrat who never made a quick and clean conversion to the Republican Party (as Ronald Reagan famously did). Trump always contributed grandly to candidates from both parties, hoping they could help him make more money. Sanders proudly called himself a democratic socialist and independent, not a Democrat. Until now.

Republicans face one more dilemma. On the eve of Tuesday's historic New Hampshire vote, Trump, who wants in the worst way to be our president, demonstrated, yet again, he's at least capable of going about it in the worst way.

At a Manchester, N.H., rally, when Trump noted Ted Cruz's debate comment opposing waterboarding of terrorist suspects, a woman shouted a word most couldn't hear. Trump stopped and pointed at her, declaring: "She just said a terrible thing. You know what she said?"

Then, with a teenager's smirk, he instructed her: "Shout it out because I don't want to say." She did; but most still couldn't hear her.

Trump's smirk widened; you could sense he was about to commit a full-frontal Fonz; and he did: "I never expect to hear that from you again. She said he's a p----." (Here, the man who wants to be your president, uttered the P-word for a female body part.)

The crowd roared with glee. And Trump, with all the faux sincerity he could muster, proclaimed: "That's terrible!"

Bombs away

No doubt he felt it was also terrible when, the previous Thursday, he committed not one obscene faux pas, but two -- an F-bomb and an S-bomb -- at a Portsmouth, N.H., rally.

But all the above pales compared to Trump's most un-presidential and unacceptable campaign conduct -- which was, indeed, worse than any candidate has ever has been recorded committing.

In November, Trump mocked a New York Times reporter who suffers from a disease that limits the use of his arms.

The reporter, who has interviewed Trump multiple times, had said he couldn't substantiate Trump's claim of witnessing thousands cheering the fall of the World Trade Center towers in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Then, at a South Carolina rally, Trump mocked the reporter's affliction. "You gotta see this guy!" Trump shouted, contorting his face, raising his arms, with hands flopping helplessly in front of him. And in an exaggerated disabled person's voice, the man who wants to be your president shouted: "'Aaahh, I don't know what I said. I don't remember!' He's going, 'I don't rememberrrr. Maybe that's what I said!'"

Which brings us to the Republicans' ultimate dilemma: It isn't ultimately about Trump's abhorrent conduct.

It is about the sad acquiescence of Republican voters who are rewarding his conduct with their most precious possessions -- their votes. They, too, used to be better than that.

Write Martin Schram, a columnist for Tribune News Service, veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive,at martin.schram@gmail.com.

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