WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT #NEVERTRUMP: The GOP's long winter is over. Now starts the spring slog.
This week, even as there remains no unified Republican movement to stop Donald Trump, several groups of the mogul's foes are coalescing separately by the day, embracing varying strategies.
Yesterday, the Post reported on conservative activists -- including some who've built their careers on criticizing the GOP establishment -- who met to discuss concrete strategies to set in motion. Most of those strategies amount to political guerilla warfare -- insurgent operations that don't depend on pricey campaigns to win over mass voter support: winning over individual delegates, or RNC Rules Committee members (whether those members are on board with the idea or not), finding a candidate acceptable to the base and willing to run outside the party structure.
Of course, all of the above would eventually require either a public messaging push or deep pockets, or both. But they don't need either to launch.
But it's a different focus than the one being adopted by establishment figures like Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney, now speaking publicly to urge voters in primaries and caucuses still ahead to cast ballots for one of Trump's remaining opponents.
And it's a different tack than the effort led by the super PACs and big-money donors who've poured millions of dollars into a very expensive, very late anti-Trump ad push this month, all to no avail. The insurgents and elder statesmen may be gearing up. And the super PACs themselves are still rolling out new ads. But now there are signs donors behind those spots may be losing their appetite for funding them.
DON'T CALL IT AN ENDORSEMENT, BUT...
Mitt Romney is voting for Ted Cruz next week. He's not calling it an endorsement -- but his statement today basically said a vote for John Kasich is effectively a vote for Donald Trump. "The only path that remains to nominate a Republican rather than Mr. Trump is to have an open convention. At this stage, the only way we can reach an open convention is for Senator Cruz to be successful in as many of the remaining nominating elections as possible," he wrote in a Facebook post today, ahead of the contest where a Romney seal of approval may matter most of all: Utah.
"I like Governor John Kasich. I have campaigned with him. He has a solid record as governor. I would have voted for him in Ohio. But a vote for Governor Kasich in future contests makes it extremely likely that Trumpism would prevail.
"I will vote for Senator Cruz and I encourage others to do so as well, so that we can have an open convention and nominate a Republican."
(Ted Cruz definitely owes Donald Trump a fruit basket for this one.)
The statement inadvertantly highlighted one very inconvenient element of John Kasich's trail pitch right now: it is very, very unlikely that Ted Cruz could surpass Donald Trump in delegate strength before the convention -- but it is literally impossible for Kasich to do it (there just aren't enough delegates up for grabs in the remaining contests.) His entire campaign rationale right now involves asking voters to support him, so he can go to the convention and try to make party leaders...ignore the will of the voters, who will have thrown even more support to other candidates.
For now, Kasich shows no signs of pulling back, recruiting new big-money bundlers to his campaign.
THE PROBLEM WITH FIGHTING THE LAST WAR, IN ONE TWEET:
.@RonPaul on a contested convention and the RNC facing the other end of the Ron Paul Rule: "It's a bit of an irony&they deserve the problem"— Kate Bolduan (@KateBolduan) March 18, 2016
In public, GOP congressional leadership has tread very carefully on Trump; as factions of the party bicker and contemplate a divorce, they've basically done what most kids in that situation would do (cover their ears, hum loudly and wait for everyone to stop fighting.) Staying silent has been the safest path between offending Trump supporters and wholeheartedly endorsing a candidate who will, at the very least, result in months of off-message trail questions for Republicans running for re-election, as reporters ask them to react to the latest headline-grabbing Trump statement. In other words: the Trump message of the day will almost certainly become their own, whether they like it or not.
More than a few Republican strategists who have basically written off the White House race this year have turned their attention to preserving the party's Senate control, but barely mentioned the House, where the Republican majority has seemed far more stable.
Or not. "House Republicans Are Staring Into the Abyss," the Cook Political Report said today, as they reassessed the standings in 10 congressional races, given the likelihood of Trump or Cruz topping of the GOP ticket. All of the changes favored Democrats. ("They're about to detonate a nuclear bomb on themselves," one House Democratic strategist said of the GOP.)
This doesn't mean a Democrats are anywhere close to picking up the 30 seats they'd need to reclaim the majority. It does mean Republicans may be forced to defend terrain that otherwise might be safe.
TEST YOUR TROLLING RADAR: Sometimes campaign swipes are unmistakable. Other times...it's a bit tougher to tell. Sometimes it's all about timing. This...
I'm told the number just ticked over: As of a few minutes ago, 1,000,000 people have pitched in to be a part of this campaign. Thank you. -H— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 18, 2016
....appeared at roughly the same time this did:
A grassroots movement by the numbers:— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 18, 2016
✅ Nearly 2 million donors
✅ More than 5.7 million contributions
✅ Average contribution: $27
They were near simul-tweets, with the Sanders tweet appearing just moments before Clinton's. But news of the milestone was already circulating. So the Sanders tweet could have been a response. Or not. One of those things. (We did not say this would be an easy game.)
Clinton fundraising email: "We just hit a YUUUGE milestone (yes, YUUUGE!)" Honestly can't tell if they are trolling Trump or Bernie— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) March 18, 2016
Or maybe both Trump and Sanders? A bit like this Sanders line today; it could have been a dig at Clinton. Or Trump. Or both:
"I never even went to one of his weddings!"-a new double edged Sanders jab at Clinton's attendance @ a Trump wedding pic.twitter.com/SfyMpJpNWK— Danny Freeman (@DannyEFreeman) March 18, 2016
TODAY'S TRUMPFEUD: Trump vs. Erickson. (Conservative radio host Erick Erickson, one of the organizers of yesterday's Stop Trump strategy meeting in D.C., posted a joint statement online Thursday in which the members of the assembled group called on "all former Republican candidates not currently supporting Trump to unite against him and encourage all candidates to hold their delegates on the first ballot."
.@EWErickson got fired like a dog from RedState— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2016
and now he is the one leading opposition against me.
Is firing dogs something stubby fingered men do?— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) March 18, 2016
But it didn't end there. A few noted: this is a thing Donald Trump has said before.
Even more of them noted: firing dogs isn't actually a thing.
"Fired like a dog"? Does Trump fire his dogs? This is new information and America needs to know. https://t.co/mTqENCf7rO— Jeremy McLellan (@JeremyMcLellan) March 18, 2016
Who fires a dog, anyway?— Brian Faughnan (@BrianFaughnan) March 18, 2016
I would NEVER fire my dog. https://t.co/rWvuF4Z1nt
"I had no choice but to fire this dog," tweeted @SeanMcElwee.
Why would you fire a dog? Dogs are cool.— Colin Jones (@colinjones) March 18, 2016
Maybe Trump meant "fire dog". pic.twitter.com/mUWbtc02Ww— Poe Zandaron (@ZandarVTS) March 18, 2016
In other Trump news: a two-fer attack.
Not OK: accepting an endorsement from someone who's insulted you.
OK: accepting an endorsement from someone you've insulted (#FlashbackFriday time):
More #FlashbackFriday: Sixteen years ago tomorrow, "The Simpsons" predicted a Trump presidency.
TRAIL MIX: Here are more details on the first significant ad buy by the super PAC supporting Donald Trump (all national, no state-specific buys)
--Police are investigating after a threatening letter and a package containing a powdered substance were sent to the Manhattan apartment of Donald Trump's son Eric.
--The conservative Judicial Crisis Network is helping to lead the fight against President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, launching a $2 million ad campaign, as Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk -- facing a tough re-election fight -- becomes the first Republican senator to call for a vote on the nomination. An NBC poll released Friday found 6 in 10 Americans think the Senate should vote on Garland, and 6 in 10 approve of the president's pick.
--Aaron Blake has more on the (very good) odds that the Republican nomination fight could swing on the California primary. In June.
--Citing a scheduling conflict (he'll be out West ahead of Tuesday's votes), Bernie Sanders told AIPAC he can't make it back to speak with them Monday. Hillary Clinton and the three remaining Republicans will be in D.C. that day to address the group's annual conference.
THE VIEW FROM THE TRAIL (AND BEYOND): This may not be the "anger election." But it's still a presence on the trail and a force to be reckoned with, David Maraniss and Robert Samuels report in a sweeping new series.
"Anger at Wall Street. Anger at Muslims. Anger at trade deals. Anger at Washington. Anger at police shootings of young black men. Anger at President Obama. Anger at Republican obstructionists. ...Specific anger and undefined anger and even anger about anger.
"Each presidential campaign has its own rhythm and meaning, but this one unfolded with dizzying intensity, an exaggeration of everything that came before. It felt like the culmination of so many long-emerging trends in American life. The decomposition of traditional institutions. The descent of politics into reality-TV entertainment. Demographic and economic shifts quickening the impulses of inclusion and exclusion and us vs. them. All of it leading to this moment of great unsettling, with the Republican Party unraveling, the Democrats barely keeping it together, and both moving farther away from each other by the week, reflecting the splintering not only of the body politic but of the national ideal.
"...What were the causes and connections of the anger? Was it all real, or another inflated concept in this year of uncommon hype? Would the center hold, as it usually does? Was this “revolution” more like the original one, leading to a new era of liberty for we the people, as patriots from both left and right proclaim — or the French Revolution, with partisans effectively killing their own in the name of purity? Did all the noise of the campaign match the reality of how people were living their daily lives?
"In search of answers, we traveled the country, attending rallies in airport hangars and high school gymnasiums, followed canvassers rounding up votes, observed Rotary Club breakfasts and fraternity-house debate-watch parties and morning coffee klatches and church sermons and sidewalk picket lines. All along the way, we listened to people talk in divergent ways about idealism and pragmatism and their concepts of America and what it means to be an American."
Their full report is this weekend's political read, in four parts, taking a deep look at what's driving voters this year, far from the campaign events and cable hits. "The great unsettling." The "longing for something lost." The Americans "awaiting a political awakening." And at "a nation, divided."
Washington Post photographers and producers joined them, on the trail and off it; they turned their lenses away from the candidates, and trained them on the voters instead. Below, a look at some of what the Post team found along the way.
THE TRAIL AHEAD: FEC filings are due Sunday, so keep your eyes open for money news. And spring! Tomorrow's the last day of winter.
Next week, the race heads west: On Tuesday, both parties vote in Arizona and Utah, and Democrats caucus in Idaho.
YOUR DAILY TRAIL PIT STOP: It doesn't get much more America than this: The baby eagle live cam, which every third person in D.C. seemed to be streaming today. Enjoy!