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Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets his wife Melania Trump following her address to delegates on the first day of the Republican National Convention on Monday in Cleveland, Ohio.Robyn Beck/AFP / Getty Images

To borrow one of many fresh expressions in Melania Trump's new book, Things I Said First, the controversy surrounding her alleged plagiarism is a "tempest in a teapot."

The fact that the wife of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump lifted sentences from a speech by Michelle Obama and presented them as her own in a speech at the Republican convention in Cleveland on Monday will not change the course of the American election.

What it does do, though, is highlight just how out-of-control the Republican Party has become since being hijacked by Mr. Trump. The party's convention, meant to be the coronation of a candidate and a show of unity, is proving to be nothing of the sort.

The first day's proceedings devolved into a shouting match between Trump supporters and those looking for a last chance to dump him. Nearly every one of the past generation's worth of Republican presidential nominees – the two George Bushes, Mitt Romney and John McCain – are staying away, as are prominent Republican governors. The Quicken Arena's seats are half empty.

Outside the arena, the parade of religious nuts and gun-slinging zealots has the feel of a scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian. No self-respecting politician seeking the votes of reasonable Americans would be caught dead there.

Those who did show up are the ones responsible for a Republican platform that is retrograde to the point of self-sabotage. It calls for the end of gay marriage and demands the right of Americans to refuse service to homosexuals on religious grounds. It opposes abortion in all circumstances. Judges and legislators would be asked to use the Bible as a guide to their decision-making in a Republican state. And Mr. Trump's unbuildable wall across the Mexican border would be built.

The platform is out of step with reality but right in step with a bellicose, divisive, unethical party leader who urge his supporters to use violence at rallies, exploits bigotry, lies constantly and changes positions on a week-to-week basis.

And then the marquee speaker on the first night of the convention gets caught plagiarizing oratorical bromides. Small potatoes. The GOP – and America – have bigger problems right now.

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