THE MORNING PLUM:

Still more polls released today suggest that Hillary Clinton is on track to beating Bernie Sanders in states like New York and Maryland — which means that, by the time the polls close on April 26th (less than two weeks from now) the delegate math could look virtually impossible for the Vermont Senator to overcome.

But even if that does happen, Sanders has absolutely no reason not to fight on until the very last votes are counted in June.

This isn’t to say that Sanders will have any reasonable chance of winning if the pledged delegate gap does begin to look more and more impossible for him. Sanders is talking about flipping super-delegates from Clinton even if he continues to trail in pledged delegates, but that is very unlikely to work. Rather, the point is that, even if it all begins to look hopeless, Sanders has the money and every incentive to keep on going, and there is no reason why he shouldn’t do it. Indeed, there are good reasons for him to do so that go well beyond his own self interest.

The Sanders super-delegate strategy probably isn’t grounded in any genuine belief that it could actually work, should she prevail by a comfortable margin among pledged delegates. Bloomberg Politics has a good look at the Sanders strategy today, and it includes this striking admission from a Sanders supporter:

“I don’t think I can make a good case for it,” said Bert Marley, the Idaho Democratic Party chairman and an enthusiastic Sanders superdelegate, when asked how Sanders could win over Clinton superdelegates.
“If you’re a true believer you just hang in there and hope something materializes that makes it work; that’s where I’m at at this time.”

This is what the intimations about flipping super-delegates probably are really about: keeping alive the idea that Sanders still has a very realistic path, to keep his supporters engaged (and, perhaps, sending money).

And that’s fine. It’s perfectly defensible for Sanders to keep his supporters engaged and even sending money until the end, even if it does become apparent that he has no chance. Sanders picked up his first endorsement from a Senator today, and Jeff Merkley of Oregon put it very well:

It has been noted that Bernie has an uphill battle ahead of him to win the Democratic nomination. But his leadership on these issues and his willingness to fearlessly stand up to the powers that be have galvanized a grass-roots movement. People know that we don’t just need better policies, we need a wholesale rethinking of how our economy and our politics work, and for whom they work.

By continuing to vote, organize, and send money until the last primary votes are counted, Sanders supporters will continue registering support for the idea that only fundamental change — only a fundamental re-imagining of American democracy — will do, when it comes to grappling with the challenges the country faces.

There are problems with the broader story Sanders tells. His ongoing insistence that Obama-era reforms were woefully insufficient — and his explanation for it, i.e., that Dems remain in thrall to plutocratic money and failed to rally the grassroots to break GOP opposition — are overly simplistic, give those achievements short shrift, and don’t fully reckon with our system’s structural realities.

But his impatience with the constraints on our politics — his demand that we need to shift what we define at the outset as “political realism” — has also had an undeniably positive impact on the debate, and it is precisely what is engaging many Sanders supporters in the political process, many no doubt for the first time.

If Sanders loses, there’s little doubt that he will do all he can to rally his supporters behind Clinton and to persuade them that she is also committed to moving the country in the same basic direction as he would. If so, having a national constituency that continues to be galvanized by (and continues to insist upon) his basic underlying idea could have a positive impact on Clinton’s agenda in the fall campaign — and, possibly, on a Clinton presidency as well. Sanders has every reason to keep this going for as long as possible.

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* HILLARY CRUISING IN MARYLAND: A new NBC4/Marist poll finds Clinton leading Sanders by 22 points among likely Democratic voters in Maryland, 58-36. By April 26th, states like Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut (in which Clinton leads) may have given us a lot more clarity about whether Sanders has any chance of catching up in delegates.

Meanwhile, the new Maryland poll finds Trump leads John Kasich and Ted Cruz by 41-29-24, another reminder that, for all his recent setbacks, the Donald is headed for a stretch of terrain that is very favorable to him.

* BERNIE NARROWS GAP IN NEW YORK, BUT HILLARY STILL LEADS: A new Siena poll finds that Clinton leads Sanders among likely Dem primary voters in New York by 10 points, 52-42 — down from 55-34. That’s consistent with the polling averages, which have her up 52-40.

Meanwhile, the new Siena poll puts Trump at exactly 50 percent among likely GOP primary voters — suggesting once again that he may be able to haul in all of the state’s big delegate treasure trove.

* HILLARY TO SPEAK AT AL SHARPTON’S JOINT: Today Clinton is set to deliver a speech at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Manhattan. One thing worth watching for: How (or whether) she addresses the recent controversies over Bill Clinton’s angry denunciation of Black Lives Matter protesters and, more broadly, black activist anger over the Clintons’ role in the 1994 crime bill and the future of sentencing reform.

* TED CRUZ MAY BLOCK TRUMP: A new Washington Post analysis shows that Ted Cruz is very close to locking down enough commitments from delegates across the country to ensure that Trump cannot win a majority of delegates in a second round of balloting (at which point delegates are no longer bound) at a contested convention. That means:

The GOP race now rests on two cliffhangers: Can Trump lock up the nomination before Cleveland? And if not, can Cruz cobble together enough delegates to win a second convention vote if Trump fails in the first?

* TRUMP RAILS AT CORRUPT SYSTEM: The New York Times discerns a pattern:

Trump and his allies are engaged in an aggressive effort to undermine the Republican nominating process by framing it as rigged and corrupt, hoping to compensate for organizational deficiencies that have left Mr. Trump with an increasingly precarious path to the nomination. Their message: The election is being stolen from him.

The GOP’s problem? Many of his supporters will eagerly believe it.

* TEACHING, AN UNDERVALUED PROFESSION: Teach Strong, a coalition of education advocacy groups dedicated to elevating the teaching profession, is releasing an interesting new national poll that attempts to gauge Americans’ attitudes towards that profession. The key findings: Very large majorities think the teaching profession is undervalued, and think that increasing teacher pay — and providing more support for the profession in general — would have a positive impact on public education.

Given that the 2016 campaign will figure heavily around how to secure our future, it’ll be interesting to see if debates over how to elevate the teaching profession play a role.

* AND CRUZ CALLS IN THE WALL STREET CAVALRY: Politico reports that Ted Cruz is increasingly looking to Wall Street to raise the money he needs to stop Donald Trump. This quote from one senior banker is notable:

“Anybody who is really politically aware knows that it’s ultimately better to have Cruz go down in flames than for Trump to go down in flames. People are coming around to that. Cruz probably won’t take down the House and Senate with him.”

This idea — that nominating Cruz might not unleash as awful a down-ticket bloodbath — might work on top GOP donors, now that Paul Ryan has unequivocally taken himself out of the running.