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Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

As the behind-the-scenes battle for delegates between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz intensifies and devolves into nastiness, Democrats are laying the groundwork to capitalize on the scenes of chaos that seem likely to erupt at a contested GOP convention and in its aftermath, in hopes of giving Hillary Clinton a boost even before the general election gets underway.

In a preview of what’s to come along these lines, the pro-Clinton Super PAC Priorities USA has just rolled out this new Web ad:

It’s reasonable to assume that, if a contested convention does happen, you’ll see a lot more along these lines, including paid ads designed to contrast ongoing Republican craziness with what many senior Dems see as one of Clinton’s strong suits — that, for all her very real personal negatives, Americans believe she has the right kind of temperament to be president.

“The mess they find themselves in will continue to be a telling contrast between the two parties as they head to the general election,” Priorities USA spokesman Justin Barasky says. “While Hillary Clinton and the Democrats talk to the American people about how to raise wages, break barriers and keep our country safe, Republicans will descend into chaos and nastiness that will hobble their eventual nominee.”

A new national poll further underscores the sort of chaos that could attend a contested convention. Today’s NBC News/Survey Monkey Tracking poll finds: “Only about half of Cruz supporters and half of Trump supporters said they would vote for the other GOP candidate in a general election should the Democratic candidate be Hillary Clinton.” While this may overstate the case, what this means is that the possibility of a split party remains very real, whether the nominee is Trump or Cruz.

This polling suggests that if Trump wins the nomination — say, on the first balloting at a contested convention — a non-trivial number of Republicans could defect in the general. But this polling also suggests that something similar may also happen if Cruz wins the nomination. If Trump wins the most delegates via the voting but falls short of a majority, and the nomination goes to Cruz at a contested convention, Trump may do all he can to wreak havoc by calling on his supporters to sit the election out — and it might, to some degree, work. (Trump has already vowed, er, predicted that “riots” could take place.)

Indeed, Byron York writes today that such an outcome could present the GOP with its own Bush-v.-Gore moment, in which the nomination was given to “the candidate who lost the popular vote,” leaving behind “diminished faith in the legitimacy of the electoral system” among Republicans. Trump will likely exploit this to cast the whole process as illegitimate and symptomatic of the same elite corruption and disdain for regular voters that he’s been railing at for months.

And so, convention craziness could conceivably hurt the GOP in two ways. First, it could create impressions of a party in chaos even as Clinton (should she win the nomination) begins laying out her general election agenda. Second, even if that blows over, intra-GOP bitterness and recriminations could continue to divide the GOP after the convention has come and gone.

Of course, any Dem hopes of capitalizing on GOP contested convention chaos also underscore the importance of a relatively orderly resolution to the Dem primary battle. Given the intimations we’ve been hearing from the Sanders camp about a contested Dem convention, such an outcome is anything but assured, but it looks substantially more likely than an orderly resolution on the GOP side.

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 * ANOTHER POLL SHOWS HILLARY AND TRUMP CRUISING IN NEW YORK: A new NY1/Baruch College poll finds Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders by 50-37 among likely Dem primary voters in New York, while Donald Trump leads John Kasich and Ted Cruz by 60-17-14.

The polling averages put Clinton up by 53-39, and show Trump leading by 55-22-18, which means the Donald may be on the way to sweeping all the delegates in this state.

 * DEMOGRAPHICS AND GEOGRAPHY MATTER. MOMENTUM DOESN’T: The First Read crew punctures the idea that Clinton and Trump have lost “momentum” after losing in Wisconsin:

Every New York survey we’ve seen has Trump above 50% (which would put him in a position to possibly win all of New York’s delegates), and has Clinton leading by double digits. It’s a reminder that, for all of the attention on momentum, demographics and geography continue to play the bigger role in these 2016 primary contests.

That may be boring, but it’s the right way to think about the race.

* TRUMP PUMMELED BY HUGE ONSLAUGHT OF ADS: The New York Times finds that more than half of the ad spending in the GOP primaries has gone to ads hammering Trump:

Of the more than $132 million spent on negative ads by candidates and the groups supporting them, nearly $70 million has gone to commercials assailing Mr. Trump….In addition to Mr. Trump’s opponents, three Republican “super PACs” have made it their main focus to take him down. The Club for Growth, Our Principles PAC and the American Future Fund, all unaligned with any particular candidate, have spent more than $23.5 million on negative ads against him.

This could help explain why Trump has hit the skids lately, but if he still wins the nomination, it will suggest these fearsome multim-million-dollar ad barrages proved pretty toothless.
* PAUL RYAN ISN’T RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT: Politico’s Jake Sherman comes away convinced Paul Ryan will never allow himself to be drafted at a contested convention, after talking to many of his confidants. This may be the most important reason why:

The backdrop of all his denials is the political reality that Ryan would likely lose. Most public polling has him faring relatively poorly in a potential matchup with Clinton. Of course, polls shift, but Ryan would be forced to launch and run a presidential campaign in three months. His experience from 2012 would help, but even the most talented campaigner would be at a disadvantage on such a compressed timetable.

The architect of the hallowed Ryan blueprint for economic prosperity via limited government conservatism — the lodestar of the GOP — would lose to a candidate who is certain to be destroyed by Benghazi and/or email revelations? Impossible.

* HILLARY BLASTS BERNIE ON GUNS: Clinton and her surrogates are opening fire on Sanders’s gun control record, in advance of the high stakes voting in New York, and she has taken to saying this:

“When challenged on his gun stances, he frequently says: ‘Well, I represent Vermont. It’s a small, rural state,'” Clinton said of Sanders. “Here’s what I want you to know: Most of the guns that are used in crimes and violence and killings in New York come from out of state. The state that has the highest per-capita number of those guns that end up committing crime in New York come from Vermont….So this is not, ‘Oh, no, I live in a rural state.'”

Clinton means Sanders is ducking the core issue: crime problems sometimes stems from lax laws elsewhere. Still, on the specifics, Michelle Lee nails Clinton with three Pinocchios. Meanwhile: Mark Kelly, husband to Gabrielle Giffords, has rolled out a new web site designed to build support for blocking guns to those on the terror watch list.

 * GOP TAX REFORM MUST CUT RATES ON RICH: John Harwood interviewed GOP Rep. Kevin Brady, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and asked him if he could envision tax reform that doesn’t cut rates on the top earners. Brady’s answer:

“That’d be difficult to accept, because I think that holds back investment, both by businesses, small businesses, and by families.”

Of course. GOP tax reform must include lowering rates at the top.
* AND HERE’S THE PROBLEM FOR TRUMP IN THE GENERAL: Michael Gerson nails it:

An attempt to pump up the white vote with nativist rhetoric alienates just about everyone else. Trump has secured his stagnant plurality in GOP primaries by earning record-level disapproval from the rest of the country. If Trump were the Republican nominee, winning states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan would require an increase in the white working-class vote so vast that the math is essentially impossible.

As it happens, demographic analysis confirms this to be very likely the case.