Opinion writer
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told a crowd of his Indiana supporters on May 2 that Cruz would lose the state by "the biggest landslide in history." (Reuters)

THE MORNING PLUM:

If the polls are right, Donald Trump will deal the Never Trump forces a potentially fatal blow in Indiana today, and Hillary Clinton will divide the state’s delegates with Bernie Sanders — reinforcing the sense that Trump and Clinton are hurtling towards an epic general election battle.

Trump is very excited about this prospect. As he put it on the campaign trail: “Folks, I haven’t even started yet. Now I’m going to start focusing on Hillary. It’s going to be so easy. It’s going to be so great.”

No, it isn’t. The general election may indeed prove a “great” spectacle, but not in the manner Trump imagines it will.

First, acting like a full blown ass may appeal to those GOP primary voters who equate Trump’s vow of mass deportations and Muslim bans, and his nonstop belittling of immigrants and women, with mindlessly defined “strength” and “tell like it is” forthrightness. But key constituencies in the general election audience will not see things in such simplistic terms. Trump is already viewed unfavorably by enormous majorities of women, nonwhites, young voters, and college educated whites.

Second, Democrats will not face many of the constraints that prevented Trump’s rivals from fully unmasking Trump’s xenophobia and bigotry to their benefit. Many Republican voters agreed with Trump on matters Mexican and Muslim, while majorities of the American people don’t.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump slammed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, saying that "the only card she has is the woman's card." (Reuters)

It has become fashionable to claim, as Andrew Sullivan does, that Trump supporters are rallying to him in part because liberals have somehow made them feel culturally inferior, and Trump will make them feel great again. I don’t think it’s reasonable to blame the left for this, but such a sentiment may have been a factor in one sense: Trump’s rivals on the right have had to tip toe gingerly around his xenophobia and bigotry, in the (vain) hope of winning over Trump supporters who may be hyper-attuned to hints of “political correctness,” which they see as evidence that America is stacked against them. But Democrats will not be constrained by any need to avoid offending the tender cultural sensitivities of those who are fully embracing Trump’s wretched demagoguery, and will be able to prosecute it mercilessly before a diverse general election audience.

It is true, as Sullivan also claims, that Democrats are partly complicit in the economic quasi-abandonment of blue collar whites, and it’s possible Trump is successfully tapping into that. This is why Democrats should not underestimate Trump. But the good news is that Dems do recognize the legitimate power of this aspect of Trump’s message, and are thinking through how to deal with it. And as senior Clinton allies tell Politico, the Bernie Sanders challenge has helped in this regard, forcing Clinton to take more seriously the possibility of widespread voter belief that our rigged economic and political systems are fundamentally failing people. One hopes that will continue.

Third, Democrats will not be caught off guard by Trump’s rise in the manner that Republicans were. The failure of Republicans to dig through Trump’s business record and trail of verbal slime before he began to run away with the nomination was malpractice. But Democrats have had a lot more time since then to avoid making the same mistake. One Dem opposition researcher estimates that approximately 80 percent of the material that Dems have privately amassed on Trump has not yet surfaced publicly. It will soon.

Then there’s the electoral college. As Chris Cillizza shows, if Dems win the states they’ve won in the last six presidential elections, all they need is Florida to win. Demographic changes are slowly edging states like Virginia and North Carolina towards the Dem column, giving Republicans a lot less room for error. Trump’s team claims he can ride a wave of white working class anger in the Rust Belt to victory, but the demographics are changing in those states, too, meaning Trump would need to pull off enormous swings among blue collar whites for that to work.

Above all, Trump seems rather susceptible to allowing the giddy emotional highs of victory to cloud his judgment. Trump has kept up his “woman’s card” assault on Clinton, fully believing that this will win over women by getting them to resent Clinton’s efforts to exploit her gender, even though polling shows his unfavorability ratings among women (including GOP-friendly white women) are off the charts. It seems likely that Trump’s smashing victories and adoring crowds have left him unable to even entertain the possibility that the general election audience — and female swing voters in particular — will not see his antics and bluster in the same light that Republican primary voters do.

At bottom, Trump’s suggestion that beating Clinton will be easy is self-refuting: the apparent fact that he actually believes it will make winning that much harder. By contrast, Clinton has been dealing with political adversity for decades.

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* THE FINAL FORECAST, GOP SIDE: FiveThirtyEight’s final forecast gives Donald Trump an 83 percent chance of winning in Indiana today, projecting a victory of 44-38-16 over Ted Cruz and John Kasich. HuffPollster’s average of polls has it at 43-29-10.

* THE FINAL FORECAST, DEM SIDE: FiveThirtyEight’s final forecast gives Hillary Clinton a 91 percent chance of winning in Indiana today, projecting a 54-43 victory over Bernie Sanders. HuffPollster’s average of polls has it at 51-44.

* THE NEVER TRUMP MOVEMENT’S LAST STAND? NPR breaks down the delegate math on the GOP side:

This week really could be decisive for Donald Trump and potentially the last stand for the #NeverTrump movement. That’s because if Trump sweeps all 57 Indiana delegates Tuesday (the second most delegates in any remaining GOP contest behind California), his path to the nomination would be very clear. He would have crossed the 1,000-delegate threshold and be 85 percent of the way to the magic number of 1,237 needed for the Republican nomination with nine contests remaining.

Also, a big win all but ensures that at a minimum, he gets very close to a majority of delegates, perhaps making Republicans more reluctant to risk a contested convention.

* THE NEXT STEP FOR THE NEVER TRUMP MOVEMENT: The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker details what’s next for the Never Trumpers, should Trump win Indiana:

The next decision…is whether to immediately push ahead with attempting to field a third party conservative presidential candidate, or wait until the California primary to determine if Trump wins enough delegates to become the presumptive nominee at the convention….They see a third-party conservative candidate as a means to maintain turnout among traditional GOP voters and preserve majorities in the House and Senate….the concern among the core of the #NeverTrump movement is that Trump is simply unfit for the presidency.

We’ll see how long the leading Never Trumpers stick with this once Trump is the nominee.

* THE BIG THREAT TO THE NEVER TRUMP MOVEMENT: Politico’s Shane Goldmacher sums it up:

If the Texas senator loses Indiana on Tuesday he risks big donors abandoning the Stop Trump effort that has spent millions supporting him in battleground states. More than a half-dozen Republicans involved in the pro-Cruz and anti-Trump push told POLITICO that Indiana is crucial for Cruz to keeping the cash flowing, as skittish donors have grown weary after a string of recent losses.

But but but big donors will never, ever make peace with Trump as nominee, right?

 * REPUBLICANS DON’T WANT A CONTESTED CONVENTION: A new CNN poll finds that more than two thirds of Republicans oppose it:

Overall, 91% of Republican voters think Trump will ultimately be the party’s nominee. But if no candidate captures a majority of the delegates at stake in primaries and caucuses by the time the final contests are complete June 7, 60% of Republican voters say the delegates should vote for the candidate with the most support in the primaries, 37% for the one they think is the best candidate.

This suggests the possibility that, if Trump falls just short and the GOP does give the nomination to someone else, he’ll be able to do a great deal of damage by relentlessly casting the proceedings as illegitimate.

* AND CAN HILLARY WIN OVER BERNIE SUPPORTERS? The New York Times explains what to watch for today, to determine whether Clinton is winning over the working class whites that have been backing Bernie:

She began making progress with such voters in the Pennsylvania primary last week, effectively splitting whites without a college degree with Mr. Sanders, and will need to do so again in Indiana to win the state over all. Mrs. Clinton’s performance in Madison, Delaware and Howard Counties will offer insights into whether she is gaining with working-class whites. All three are traditional manufacturing hubs with roots in the auto industry.

This might have implications for a general election match-up against Trump, and for the question of whether Trump can ride that wave of working class white anger into the White House.