Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

As you’ve already heard, Donald Trump conducted an extraordinarily provocative interview with the Washington Post in which he refused to endorse Paul Ryan and John McCain and doggedly defended his attacks on the Khan family. Trump’s comments spread further alarm among top Republicans, who are now (according to reports this morning) privately talking about deserting Trump en masse (though there’s good reason to be skeptical that will happen).

But now the full transcript of the interview is up, and I wanted to highlight another revealing tidbit, in which Trump essentially said he has a plan to win the presidency by putting unidentified states in play, and he isn’t going to reveal which states they are because he doesn’t want to tip his hand:

PHILIP RUCKER: So 98 days, 97 days now. Left in the campaign. How are you going to beat her? Explain the path here. What are the states you win? What are the kind of voters you’re going to bring into your coalition?

TRUMP: I think I’m going to to do great in Ohio, we’re going to do great in Pennsylvania, I think I’m going to do great in Florida and I think I’m going to do great in states that some people aren’t even thinking about. Because I’m different than Republican candidates, than other Republican candidates. I’ve got states that we can win that other Republican candidates wouldn’t even stop over for dinner.

RUCKER: Like what? Like Maine?

TRUMP: Well, I’d rather not say. Because why should I highlight it? But we have some states that I think are very competitive in that no Republican has ever been competitive in. But I’d rather not say what they are. Don’t you agree with that? I’d rather not say what they are.

RUCKER: So you’ll win with the secret state strategy?

TRUMP: No, not the secret state, no. But I have states, and you know this, I have states that no other Republican would do well in that I think I’m gonna win. But I don’t want to name those states.

Obviously, there is no way to keep secret the states you are targeting, since in order to target states, either you or your vice presidential candidate or your top surrogates (Trump doesn’t have too many of those, admittedly), have to spend some time campaigning in them, or, alternatively, you have to spend money running ads or organizing in them (Trump isn’t doing much of that, either).

But beyond this, Trump’s remarks cut against everything we know about the actual state of the map and Trump’s actual campaign strategy, to the degree that he has one at all. His advisers have privately, and candidly, indicated that their view of the race is actually that he is on defense against Democratic efforts to expand the map.

According to a recent New York Times report on their actual thinking, they have said that the most likely route to win is to hold all of the states Mitt Romney won in 2012, and sweep Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. That is obviously a very tall order, and underscoring just how unlikely Trump’s own advisers know this is, they have said they will focus on using Trump as a “battering ram” in just that handful of states. Meanwhile, Trump’s allies also know that North Carolina is in doubt, and that they must hold it in order for their narrow path — which includes an improbable win in blue-leaning Pennsylvania — to remain viable.

That’s a campaign on defense, not a campaign that is going to put secret states in play. Does Trump have an actual strategy to win this election? Let me know if you have seen or read anything that indicates that he does.

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 * ARE REPUBLICANS ABOUT TO ABANDON TRUMP? The New York Times reports that Trump is only escalating his fight with the Khan family and with other Republicans. Result:

Republicans now say Mr. Trump’s obstinacy in addressing perhaps the gravest crisis of his campaign may trigger drastic defections within the party, and Republican lawmakers and strategists have begun to entertain abandoning him en masse.

Let’s hope so. The window is closing for Republicans to disassociate themselves from Trump: If they wait until Trump bottoms out entirely (like, really bottoms out entirely), their decision will look desperate and unprincipled.

* REINCE PRIEBUS PLEADS FOR PATIENCE: Another choice nugget from the above Times piece:

Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, has acknowledged the dispute with the Khans has harmed Mr. Trump, but he has pleaded with party leaders and donors to give Mr. Trump time to adjust to the general election, according to people briefed on Mr. Priebus’s conversations.

Yep, any day now Trump will get his pathologically abusive tendencies under control. Any day now.

* MEG WHITMAN BACKS HILLARY: GOP fundraiser Meg Whitman, a former Hewlett Packard executive, says she’ll endorse Hillary Clinton, arguing that Trump is “dangerous” and a “demagogue”:

She revealed that Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic nominee, had reached out to her in a phone call about a month ago, one of the first indications that Mrs. Clinton is aggressively courting Republican leaders.

One imagines many more such discussions are underway between Clinton and other Republicans, and that other endorsements may follow. Dam bursting?

* GOP OFFICIALS ASK: WHAT IF TRUMP QUITS? ABC News reports:

ABC News has learned that senior party officials are so frustrated — and confused by Donald Trump’s erratic behavior — that they are exploring how to replace him on the ballot if he were to drop out….Trump would have to voluntarily exit the race…Then, it would be up to the 168 members of the Republican National Committee to choose a successor, though the process is complicated.

Does anyone really think Trump’s ego would permit him to quit and slink away like a big loser?

* REPUBLICAN QUESTIONS TRUMP’S ‘MEDIA DOMINANCE’ STRATEGY: Politico has an interesting interview with South Carolina Rep. Mark Sandford, who says this:

“It is Mr. Trump who is making unification of the party difficult,” said South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford, in an email to POLITICO. “Each new altercation brings with it more concern from the voters I speak with on why unification around him is growing more and more difficult.” Sanford said Trump’s ability to draw media attention may have helped his primary bid, but “they do not win the hearts and minds of the independent voter essential in a two way contest.”

But the pundits told me that Trump could win simply through sheer media dominance and ubiquity. It would be shocking if that turned out to be vapid nonsense.

* ANOTHER POLL SHOWS CLINTON BOUNCE: A new Reuters/Ipsos poll finds Clinton now leading Trump by eight points among likely voters nationally, 43-35.

The Huffpollster averages show Clinton’s national lead is now almost six points, and she has led by mid-to-high single digits in three recent polls from major national news organizations. Remember, though, this bounce could very well subside.

* AND TRUMP KEEPS UP ‘ELECTION IS RIGGED’ BLATHER: Trump repeats it yet again:

“If the election is rigged, I would not be surprised….The voter ID situation has turned out to be a very unfair development. We may have people vote 10 times.”

It’s time to ask Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell whether it’s appropriate for the nominee of their party to be telling millions of GOP voters that the next president may be illegitimate (if it isn’t him).