CONVENTION DREAMS DIE HARD -- and a GOP slide show making the rounds as Donald Trump emerges from a split-decision weekend is laying out the fantasy scenarios for his opponents.
"The presentation is an 11th-hour rebuttal to the fatalism permeating the Republican establishment: Slide by slide, state by state, it calculates how Donald Trump could be denied the nomination," report Philip Rucker and Robert Costa. "Marco Rubio wins Florida. John Kasich wins Ohio. Ted Cruz notches victories in the Midwest and Mountain West. And the results in California and other states are jumbled enough to leave Trump three dozen delegates short of the 1,237 required - forcing a contested convention in Cleveland in July.
The slide show, shared with The Washington Post by two operatives advising one of a handful of anti-Trump super PACs, encapsulates the newly emboldened view of many GOP leaders and donors. They see a clearer path to stopping Trump following his two losses and two narrower-than-expected wins on Saturday.
In private conversations in recent days at a Republican Governors Association retreat here in Park City and at a gathering of conservative policy minds and financiers in Sea Island, Ga., there was an emerging consensus that Trump is vulnerable and that a continued blitz of attacks could puncture the billionaire mogul's support and leave him limping onto the convention floor.
But the slow-bleed strategy is risky and hinges on Trump losing Florida, Illinois and Ohio on March 15; wins in all three would set him on track to amass the majority of delegates. Even as some party figures see glimmers of hope that Trump could be overtaken, others believe any stop-Trump efforts could prove futile.
This moment of confusion for the Republican Party is made more uncertain by the absence of a clear alternative to Trump. Cruz, Rubio and Kasich each are collecting delegates and vowing to fight through the spring. Among GOP elites, the only agreed-upon mission is to minimize Trump's share of the delegates to enable an opponent to mount a credible convention challenge.
If all 3 stay in and split up non-Trump delegates, Trump will have significantly more delegates than runner-up. https://t.co/L4YaDD7EyO— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) March 7, 2016
But even if it worked, the same multi-candidate slow-bleed strategy that's most likely to keep Trump from claiming the nomination on the first ballot could actually make it tougher to wrest it away from him, says Greg Sargent. "If all three stay in, and all three split up the delegates that don’t go to Trump, that makes it more likely that Trump will end up with significantly more delegates than the runner-up does — making the scenario in which he loses the nomination after a contested convention even harder to defend."
John Kasich -- the only candidate to unequivocally back the idea of contesting the convention -- said today he wouldn’t need a delegate lead to win the nomination: leading doesn't count if you don't hit the magic number, he said. "To say – I have more than you, therefore I should get it? Go out and earn it! Don’t be whining about how it’s gonna work. Go get what you need to be the legitimate winner!"
The Ohio governor's strategy still hinges on winning his home state next week; today, the second poll within a week showed him within single digits of Trump, effectively tied. Of course, it also showed Trump registering the highest support anyone (including Kasich) has posted in any Ohio primary poll so far this year.
Meanwhile, the pre-convention anti-Trump fight continues -- Randy Kendrick, wife of Arizona Diamondbacks owner, is working to mobilize conservative donors against the front-runner, as American Future Fund adds $1 million to its existing $1.75 million anti-Trump ad buy in Florida: The group is betting on a new spot that features Trump in his own words -- most of which are beeped out, since they can't be used on broadcast television. (And for any donors worried about Trump retaliation -- as more than a few reportedly are -- some good news today: The FEC just made it even easier for super PAC donors to hide their identities.) (VIDEO)
"1. Donald Trump is, realistically, the only Republican candidate who can get to 1,237 delegates before the convention in Cleveland.
2. If Trump wins Ohio and Florida, he will be the Republican nominee.
3. If he loses Ohio and Florida, this race is going to be decided at an open convention.
4. If he wins Ohio or Florida but not both, he could — but probably won't — get to 1,237 before the convention."
Rubio said again today: I'm not going to get blown out in Florida. (VIDEO)
There were some signs Monday he might be right, with new indications of strength in his home state:
--New polls that had him within single digits of Donald Trump.
--Right on cue, convenient rumors (instantly dismissed by his team: “Stop reading that sort of fiction on air,” spokesman Alex Conant said on CNN) start circulating that he might drop out before the Florida vote.
--A new attack ad from Trump hitting "Corrupt Marco Rubio"
--And several new Rubio attack ads posted to the YouTube channel of the main Cruz super PAC (although: no confirmation yet of a significant Florida TV buy)
Meanwhile, the Florida Sun-Sentinel took a look at a GOP primary field featuring the state's junior senator and decided to endorse...no one.
And Donald Trump released a video defending his 'Trump University' record. (VIDEO):
STILL NOT RUNNING (FOR REAL):
We learned a lot about Michael Bloomberg's 2016 presidential plans today. We learned that he's conducted polls in 22 states; that he's had TV ads and a website in the works; that he had set up offices in at least two states; and that his team came up with a slogan ("All Work and No Party…") and a logo (the Jeb Bush-ian "Fix It…")
We also learned that Bloomberg's not going to run for president in 2016. "I could not win," he said in an op-ed today.
"Bloomberg wants to run for president. He wants to run for president so badly," said Philip Bump. "...But he won't run, he writes, because 'my candidacy could lead to the election of Donald Trump or Senator Ted Cruz. That is not a risk I can take in good conscience.' He figures that he'd win enough states to prevent anyone from getting a majority — tossing the election to the Republican-led House."
Was he right? For the record, here's what the most recent numbers suggested about a possible Trump-Clinton-Bloomberg matchup: She might have pulled it out. Very, very narrowly.
Hillary Clinton may no longer be haunted by Bloomberg -- but Bernie's not going anywhere just yet. Three takeaways from yesterday's debate, heading into this week's primary votes and Florida faceoff:
3) He also has message issues. Like his continuing NRA mess. And the auto bailout vote tangle he's now grappling with on the eve of the Michigan primary, thanks to yesterday's last-minute Clinton hit. Her campaign hit him today with a follow-up spot on the issue (below); his campaign pushed back with a radio spot. (VIDEO)
THE VIEW FROM THE FIELD:
This guy is not gonna last. pic.twitter.com/XVAguy50JD— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) March 7, 2016
Weird new trend: Last night, the Democratic debate started a few minutes early. Now comes this:
So, uh, Donald Trump started his rally in Madison, Mississippi, nearly NINTY MINUTES early. I don't know what's going on.— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) March 7, 2016
"Trump Has Tiny Hands PAC" — it was only a matter of time, folks pic.twitter.com/IMgalmk90z— Dave Levinthal (@davelevinthal) March 7, 2016
As Donald Trump defends his hands, the YouTube chat feed fills with comments like: "Powerful hands," "YUGE hands" and "Perfect hands."— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) March 7, 2016
Cruz has been drawing solid crowds, despite last-minute notice:
Gary Bowlin, a Baptist evangelist (woman interrupts: "Everyone is here!"), drove 80 mls after finding out 2 hrs ago. pic.twitter.com/IeezlHWaHS— Vaughn Hillyard (@VaughnHillyard) March 7, 2016
--A new nod for Ted Cruz: Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, whose state votes tomorrow.
--Ted Cruz says the media is waiting to publish its most damaging Donald Trump exposés. He will not say exactly how he came to this conclusion.
--By the way, here's a new Donald Trump exposé published today: "Trump is challenged over ties to mob-linked gambler with ugly past" Members of the House apparently only work with the other party if they're scared of losing. Which they're not, for the most part: In 2014, only 15 House incumbents lost to someone from the other party in the general election. (On the Senate side, the most partisan member last year was…Bernie Sanders.)
--Donald Trump is ruining Paul Ryan's speakership -- but the speaker has still touched base with both the mogul and Ted Cruz, to talk the House GOP agenda, reports Ed O'Keefe. (Similar calls are planned with Kasich and Rubio.)
--The campaign is apparently making people sick. Literally.
THE WEEK AHEAD:
Tonight: Hillary Clinton joined Fox News Channel for a town hall -- her first appearance on the network in nearly two years. Here's what we were looking for.
Tomorrow: Voters in Michigan and Mississippi head to the polls; Republicans will also have a primary in Idaho and caucuses in Hawaii. Hawaii's a question mark, but Trump and Clinton are favored in their respective contests. (The Michigan primary in particular could tell us a lot about Trump’s staying power.)
Wednesday: Democrats will face off in Florida at the Washington Post/Univision debate.
Thursday: It's the GOP's turn for a Sunshine State debate, via CNN and Salem Radio.
Here is exclusive footage of Bernie Sanders watching the GOP Debate pic.twitter.com/FLkEYGplXJ— Benny (@bennyjohnson) March 7, 2016
YOUR DAILY TRAIL PIT STOP: MAYBERRY