THE MORNING PLUM:

Bernie Sanders continues to vow to fight on until the end. The question is what, exactly, he really means by this.

All the latest polls suggest that Hillary Clinton is heading for sizable wins in delegate-rich Pennsylvania and Maryland tomorrow, which probably means that scrutiny of Sanders’s true intentions for the endgame of the nomination process will only intensify.

But it’s now becoming obvious that Sanders is, if anything, ratcheting down expectations for this endgame. One potentially key tell was on display in the four interviews that Sanders gave yesterday to the Sunday Shows: One on ABC, one on CBS, one on NBC, and one on CNN.

In every one of them, Sanders repeated variations of the formulation: “We’re going to take our campaign through California.” “We intend to take the fight all the way through California.” “We’re in this race to California.” “We’re going to fight for every last vote until California and the D.C. primary.” In other words, Sanders promised to battle until the final votes are cast, which he has every reason and incentive to do.

But this appears less ambitious than what Sanders telegraphed only a week ago. Last Sunday he was asked directly whether he would take the contest “all the way to the floor in Philadelphia,” and he replied: “Yup.” Last week Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver flatly stated: “We’re going to go to the convention.”

Now, Sanders’s current vow — to fight until California — does not necessarily mean his campaign won’t continue beyond that point to try to lure super-delegates to ditch Clinton and support him instead. But there are other signs the Sanders campaign is shifting its focus from such a last-ditch effort to win the nomination to an effort to extract policy concessions from expected nominee Clinton. The New York Times reports today:

Aides to Mr. Sanders have been pressing party officials for a significant role in drafting the platform for the Democratic convention in July, aiming to lock in strong planks on issues like a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage, breaking up Wall Street banks and banning natural gas “fracking.”…
The pressure from Mr. Sanders and his allies is putting the party establishment, which is closely aligned with Hillary Clinton, in a delicate position. Democratic leaders are wary of steering the party too far left, but do not want to alienate the Sanders supporters whose votes Mrs. Clinton needs in November, or risk losing the vast new donor base Mr. Sanders has created.

Of course, one cannot dismiss the possibility that Sanders might still try to battle for the nomination on the convention floor. But all of the above is much more consistent with an endgame in which Sanders fights on until the voting is completed, makes one last push for super-delegates to switch, discovers they aren’t willing to do so, and then enters into serious unity talks over how he might influence the convention proceedings and the Democratic Party’s agenda in the fall campaign.

At that point, the question of how the Clinton campaign, not just the Sanders campaign, handles the conclusion to this whole process will play a big role in influencing what happens. It’s still unclear whether the Clinton camp will see a need to make any concessions to Sanders in order to win over his supporters and unite the party. But it will be in the interests of Clinton and the Democratic Party to ensure that this process goes as smoothly as possible. They’ll likely conclude that there is greater risk in not making any meaningful gestures towards unity than in making them. What this might look like is the subject of a future post.

****************************************************************

* CRUZ AND KASICH TEAM UP TO STOP TRUMP: The Ted Cruz and John Kasich campaigns have released statements promising to effectively cede key states to the other campaign: Kasich will allow Cruz a clear shot at Indiana, while Cruz will stand down in Oregon and New Mexico. But:

At this late stage, it is unclear how effective the effort might be at swaying voters, especially if the campaigns do not give more explicit instructions. Unlike a similar gambit last month, when Senator Marco Rubio urged supporters in Ohio to vote for Mr. Kasich to slow Mr. Trump, there was no such request in the two statements on Sunday.

Yeah, that’ll work. What this really reveals is how urgently Cruz needs to stop Trump in Indiana in order to block him from winning a majority of delegates. Two recent polls show Trump leading there.

* HILLARY CRUISING IN PENNSYLVANIA: A new NBC/WSJ/Marist poll finds Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders among likely Dem primary voters in Pennsylvania by 55-40. Meanwhile, a new CBS News/YouGov poll finds Clinton leading Sanders by 51-43.

The polling averages have Clinton up by 54-39. A sizable win here tomorrow — plus one in Maryland, where Clinton also holds a large lead — will make the delegate gap Sanders faces a whole lot tougher to close. And double digit wins are plausible in both.

* TRUMP CRUISING IN PENNSYLVANIA: The new NBC poll finds Donald Trump leading Ted Cruz and John Kasich among likely GOP primary voters in Pennsylvania by 45-27-24. Meanwhile, the new CBS poll finds Trump leading them by 40-35-20.

The polling averages have it at 46-27-26. Between this and Maryland, where Trump is also romping, sizable wins on Tuesday could plausibly keep Trump on the path to winning the nomination outright, without a contested convention.

* IT’S TIGHT IN CONNECTICUT AND RHODE ISLAND: New Public Policy Polling surveys show Clinton up by 48-46 in Connecticut and Sanders up by 49-45 in Rhode Island, both of which are states that vote tomorrow. The polling averages show Clinton up six in Connecticut.

The three biggest delegate hauls are Pennsylvania (189), Maryland (95), and Connecticut (55); she could all three states. Meanwhile, the new PPP polls suggest Trump may be headed for blowout wins in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Choosing to back off too soon would anger or disappoint Sanders’ millions of loyal supporters, his team worries. But deciding to continue fighting could risk damaging the likely Democratic nominee ahead of the general election, though that’s not a concern that weighs heavily on their thinking.

Keep an eye on whether Sanders’s approach to Clinton changes if he suffers big losses tomorrow.

Sanders speaks of increasing participation in Democratic primaries, but turnout this year has not exceeded the admittedly exceptional 2008. He does, however, seem to have mobilized more progressive voters: A comparison of the exit polls with surveys of Democrats nationally suggests that the primary electorate this year is more liberal than is the party as a whole.

It’ll be interesting to see if this, too, has an impact on whether Clinton and Democrats see a need to make concessions to Sanders in order to unify the party heading into the fall.

* HOW WOULD CANDIDATES HANDLE AN ECONOMIC EMERGENCY? Paul Krugman asks a good question: How would the leading presidential candidates (Clinton, Trump, Cruz) handle an economic crisis? The prospect of a Republican president should make you very afraid:

I doubt that anyone will be shocked if I say that Mr. Trump doesn’t know much about economic policy….coping with crisis in the modern world requires a lot of international cooperation…How well do you think that kind of cooperation would work in a Trump administration?….Mr. Cruz is…a man of firm economic convictions — convictions that are utterly divorced from reality and impervious to evidence, to a degree that’s unusual even among Republicans.

Reassuring! This is another reason why Sanders almost certainly won’t do anything that might be seen making President Trump or President Cruz even marginally more likely.