THE MORNING PLUM:

The big news of the morning is that the weak, doomed-in-advance efforts by Republican Party elders to hold off a crack-up of their party may be collapsing before our eyes: Donald Trump and his two rivals have now backed off their pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee.

“No, I don’t anymore,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, when asked if he remains committed to the pledge. Trump said that he would instead wait to see who emerges as the nominee before promising his support, recanting the pledge he previously signed with the Republican Party.
“I have been treated very unfairly,” Trump added.

It was always painfully obvious that Trump, in originally joining the Republican National Committee’s “loyalty pledge,” had carefully given himself an out, stating that he reserved the right to abandon the pledge if he were treated “unfairly.” Conveniently enough, Trump also knew he could define what constituted “unfair” treatment. Now he has done exactly this.

The crucial point here is not that this necessarily means Trump will run a third-party candidacy if the nomination goes to someone else at a contested convention. He may try to do that, but such an effort might depend on ballot logistics. Rather, what really matters here is that Trump is signaling his possible intention to do maximum damage to the party if he is denied the nomination, through whatever means he has at his disposal.

We simply don’t have any idea yet how much damage Trump can do to the Republican Party. It could go well beyond denying Republicans the White House. If a raging Trump, having lost the nomination at a contested convention, urges millions of his followers not to vote Republican, it could cause large numbers of GOP voters to sit out the election, potentially rupturing their plans for holding their Senate majority.

The significance of this spills over into the Supreme Court fight, too: GOP Senate leaders are explicitly refusing to consider Barack Obama’s nominee to keep the base energized, in hopes of holding that Senate majority. The idea: Republican voters might be fizzed up by the GOP leadership’s awesome willingness to do whatever it takes to prevent a liberal Court, and by the added benefit this strategy has of seeming to stick a thumb in the eye of Obama’s legitimacy as president. But Trump — by doing all he can to rupture the base — could roll a grenade into the center of all this.

Even if Trump wins the nomination with a minimum of convention drama, that, too, could do a lot of damage. If a lot of GOP voters alienated by Trump back the Democratic nominee or sit the election out, that could imperil GOP control of the Senate. It’s possible this could also begin to produce cracks in the GOP’s House majority. Paul Kane reports that political observers are suggesting it now looks possible that a Trump nomination could lead to major gains for Democrats in the House. Winning the 30 seats needed to take back the majority still looks like a major long shot. But some analysts think “double digit gains” for Dems are possible:

Such a big loss would leave Republicans holding the slimmest House majority either party has held in more than a decade. That could further destabilize the control of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan over a chamber in which his conservative flank has recently rebelled against his agenda.

If Republicans do lose the Senate, a much smaller House majority could matter a lot in determining whether the House can continue to function for Republicans as a kind of ideological island fortress, seemingly impregnable to the pressures of demographic and cultural change and evolving national public opinion.

This is why some Republicans may move to push a third-party challenger if Trump does win the nomination — to give Republicans a reason to go to the polls and vote for Senate and Congressional incumbents. But even in this scenario, they’d effectively be sacrificing the White House in order to do as much as possible to salvage their Senate (and House!!!) majority.

To be sure, it’s possible that Cruz could win the nomination at a contested convention and that Trump could support him. While this would also likely cost Republicans the White House, it could avert the most damaging down-ticket scenarios. But it’s also possible that we’ve only just begun to glimpse the damage Trump can do to the GOP.

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* LOYALTY PLEDGE IS IN TATTERS: Meanwhile, Bloomberg Politics reports that both Ted Cruz and John Kasich are now signaling they may not honor the pledge, either, suggesting they won’t support Trump if he’s the nominee. And so, the groundwork is being laid for some sort of third party challenge to Trump if that happens.

But would the third-party challenger be an ideological conservative or a moderate? The prospect of still more division looms.

* OTHER STOP-TRUMP EFFORTS CONTINUE APACE: In other #StopTrump news, MSNBC reports that Marco Rubio’s campaign is quietly lobbying behind the scenes to ensure that the 172 delegates he won before dropping out support him during initial convention balloting. The goal is to stop Trump from wooing them, making it less likely he clinches an outright majority — and the nomination — in the first balloting round.

You’ll see such all-hands-on-deck efforts ratchet up to a frantic pace if Trump comes closer to that majority.

* HILLARY CAMPAIGN ATTACKS TRUMP’S XENOPHOBIA: The Hillary Clinton campaign is up with a new ad in New York that goes after Donald Trump’s xenophobia, saying:

“When some say we can solve America’s problems by building walls, banning people based on their religion and turning against each other, well, this is New York. And we know better.”

The attacks on Trump’s bigotry may grow more explicit over time; Dems will be able to forcefully unmask his true wretchedness before a general election audience in a way his GOP rivals weren’t.

Joel Benenson, Clinton’s top strategist, told reporters that the race in Wisconsin would be “close.” Behind the scenes, aides are acknowledging that it is very possible that Sanders will come out the winner on Tuesday night.

Of course, the margin of victory will matter, too, since the delegate count is the key: If Clinton keeps the delegate split close, it won’t make much of a difference to her overall delegate advantate.

* WHITE HOUSE PLOTS STRATEGY FOR GETTING GARLAND CONFIRMED: Politico reports that the White House thinks that after a bunch of GOP Senators have met with Obama nominee Merrick Garland, that paves the way for a new round of pressure on them:

Once senators get back from that time in their home states, the White House will shift its focus to calling for hearings: Garland has met with everybody who’s been willing to see him, they’ll argue, including a majority of the Senate. “It’s a game of inches at this point, but if you continue to put inches on the board, you cover some distance,” said one White House aide.

It’s unclear whether Republicans will ever break — they think that might alienate the base and imperil their Senate majority — but the point is, Dems see each tiny gain as a foothold for more gains.

* GOP LEADERS VOW TO HOLD THE SENATE: The Hill reports on Mitch McConnell’s private assurances to colleagues about what will happen if Trump wins the nomination or if the party splits after giving it to someone else at a contested convention:

McConnell…reassured nervous colleagues at a recent meeting that party resources can be focused on congressional races in the same way they were in 1996, when it became apparent that Bob Dole, the party’s nominee, wouldn’t beat Bill Clinton, according to a GOP senator who attended.

Yes, but Bob Dole was a respectable nominee; as noted above, Trump has the capacity to blow up the down-ticket hopes in multiple ways.

* AND AMERICANS ARE COOL WITH TORTURE: A new Reuters/Ipsos poll finds that 63 percent of Americans think torturing suspected terrorists is often or sometimes justified. Even 53 percent of Democrats agree. And 64 percent of Americans think a terror attack on the U.S. is likely in the next six months.

This may seem to support the idea that the specter terrorism will advantage Trump over Clinton (if they are the nominees). But I still maintain this should not be assumed up front.