THE MORNING PLUM:

In the latest sign that panicky GOP elites fear Armageddon for the party if Donald Trump wins the GOP nomination, the Washington Post reports this morning that senior Republicans are already laying plans to insulate Senate and House incumbents from spillover damage that Trump might cause.

The Post reports that the formidable Koch brothers’ network of donors may not spend on the presidential race, plowing all of its resources into protecting vulnerable GOP lawmakers, with an eye on preserving the GOP Senate majority. Strategists at other GOP Super PACs are mulling early TV ads boosting GOP Senators and Congressmen, to “inoculate” them “against association with Trump’s incendiary remarks.” Some also worry that if Trump is the nominee, a lot of GOP voters might stay home — costing GOP Congressional incumbents crucial votes, and putting the Senate (and not inconceivably the House, though that’s still a long shot) in play.

So why don’t Republican voters agree that a Trump nomination would be such a full-scale disaster for the party?

A new Bloomberg Politics poll finds that 63 percent of Republican voters nationwide think that the winner of the most delegates should get the GOP nomination, even if he does not win an outright majority. Only 33 percent say the delegates at a contested convention should pick the nominee instead.

Meanwhile, the new Bloomberg poll also shows Hillary Clinton crushing Trump in a general election match-up, by 54-36. General election polling this far out is largely meaningless, but there are all kinds of other reasons to believe Trump might start at a major disadvantage: He may alienate women, Latinos, and young voters to an untold degree, potentially driving them from the GOP in huge numbers and driving up Dem turnout. And the idea that he can make this up by running up huge margins in the industrial Midwest among white voters, particularly blue collar whites, strains credulity, though it is not impossible (a Trump adviser makes the counter-argument here).

The point is that there is a basic disconnect on display. Large percentages of GOP voters reject the GOP elite argument for giving the nomination to someone other than Trump at a contested convention, to spare the GOP a disastrous election, even as polls (and other evidence) also suggest GOP elite fears of a Trump disaster may be well founded.

This disconnect showed up in a CNN poll earlier this week, too: It found that by 60-38, Republican voters think the candidate with the most delegates should get the nomination, even without a majority, even as it also found that Clinton beats Trump in a general election match-up by 51-43.

There are many possible reasons for this disconnect. Maybe GOP voters think the winner of the most delegates should get the nomination on principle. Maybe GOP voters dislike GOP elites so much that they can’t stomach the idea of them deciding the outcome of the nomination contest at a contested convention. Maybe GOP voters aren’t paying close enough attention to the process to grasp the threat Trump poses to GOP control of Congress.

Or maybe it’s that many Republican voters agree with precisely the things that Trump has said that make him so un-electable in the eyes of GOP elites — his call for mass deportations and a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., and his all around xenophobia and demagoguery — so they simply don’t see these things as political liabilities, for Trump or for GOP down-ticket candidates.

Or maybe GOP voters simply don’t believe that there’s any way Clinton could beat Trump — let alone that she might defeat him decisively — since their leaders and media sources have told them for months that Clinton is a hopelessly flawed, widely despised candidate who is eternally on the verge of getting buried by a new revelation about Benghazi or her email arrangement. It would be an ironic outcome if that ended up playing a role in complicating GOP elites’ efforts to rid themselves of the Donald, wouldn’t it?

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* HOW CRUZ HOPES TO STOP TRUMP: Maggie Haberman observes that two things have to happen in the near future:

The Republican presidential primary race, once a frenzied sprint of rallies and retail stops, has become a grind-it-out slog. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is opening up two fronts against Donald J. Trump — trying to peel away delegates in New York, where they will be allocated by congressional district unless Mr. Trump clears 50 percent, and in Wisconsin, where he hopes to win outright.

Most analysts think that if Trump wins Wisconsin, it will be very hard to stop him from winning a majority of delegates, and with it, the nomination. Wisconsin votes on April 5th.

* DEAD HEAT IN WISCONSIN? A new Emerson College Polling Society poll of likely Wisconsin GOP primary voters finds a dead heat, with Cruz at 36 percent and Trump at 35. The polling averages tell a different story, putting Trump up by 15 points. Whichever is right, Wisconsin is really a state to watch for the next 10 days.

* KASICH REFUSES TO DROP OUT: Under pressure from Ted Cruz to drop out of the race, John Kasich and his advisers are saying no, not now, not ever:

His advisers argued that the race’s final stretch of 20 states, mostly in the Northeast, Middle Atlantic and the West Coast, put Mr. Kasich in a far stronger position than Mr. Cruz to halt Mr. Trump. “When we get to Pennsylvania, we get to New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island — let me tell you, I drop out, Donald Trump is absolutely going to be the nominee,” Mr. Kasich said. “I don’t believe that Senator Cruz can come to the East and win.”

If Kasich and Cruz both stay in, the runner-up to Trump could have significantly fewer delegates than he otherwise might have, making Trump look more like the winner and making it harder to take the nomination from him.

* TRUMP’S VERY NARROW PATH TO THE NOMINATION: Kyle Kondick and Geoffrey Skelley offer a detailed look at the state-by-state delegate math Trump must navigate. Conclusion:

The magic number is 1,237 delegates, and our own rough calculations show Trump just getting over the hump with 1,239. But that involves Trump winning the lion’s share of the delegates in places as diverse as Wisconsin, New York, Indiana, West Virginia, New Jersey, and California….Despite Trump’s growing lead, there may be just enough time for Cruz and/or Kasich to improve their standing and slow down Trump…,Few would disagree that the anti-Trump forces have the tougher task at this stage of the nominating battle.

It’s also worth noting that if Trump falls just short of a majority, it could be harder politically to deny him the nomination.

* COULD TRUMP REALLY PUT RUST BELT IN PLAY? A new Franklin and Marshall College poll finds that Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump by 46-33 in Pennsylvania. That tracks with the analysis we discussed the other day showing that Trump would have to run up truly enormous margins among white voters, particularly blue collar whites, in Rust Belt states in order to have a chance there.

General election polls so far out are mostly meaningless. But they’re worth at least keeping an eye on as Trump argues he’ll contest the industrial Midwest by bringing in lots of new voters.

In a more functional democracy, the campaign might provide the occasion for a serious debate on Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State….Should the United States be more aggressive, or would such an approach, as the president seems to believe, lead us into unsustainable commitments? And how can we promote greater intelligence cooperation across Europe and give our allies a lot more help? But such a discussion would not provide the incendiary sound bites that so much of our media seem to encourage and that Republican primary voters seem to reward.

A lot of Republican voters agree with the anti-Muslim demagoguery spewing forth from Trump and Cruz. It’s just that simple.

* BROAD SUPPORT FOR CONSIDERING GARLAND: A new Quinnipiac poll finds that Americans think the Senate should consider Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court by 62-33. Virtually every voter group — independents, men, women, young voters, older voters, whites, nonwhites, college-educated voters, non-college voters — agree.

The only voter group that doesn’t support even considering Garland is Republicans, by 62-33. Meanwhile, only 15 percent approve of Congressional Republicans.

* AND ONE GOP SENATOR CALLS FOR HEARINGS ON GARLAND: Senator Susan Collins of Maine is now urging Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley to hold hearings on Garland:

“I hope that as time goes on, and as people sit down with Judge Garland and talk to him one-on-one, that perhaps there will be a shift in the position of the chairman of the Judiciary Committee,” she told a Maine Public Broadcasting Network call-in program….Collins said the president has followed the Constitution in making a nomination and that it’s “not fair and not right” for senators to refuse to give consideration to Garland.

Grassley has agreed to meet with Garland, and Dems are hopeful that once Republicans do meet with him, it will be harder politically to keep refusing hearings. But even so, they may do nothing anyway, because the base is supreme.