Donald Trump's unorthodox campaign is on pace to shatter another precedent: if he becomes the Republican nominee, "he would start the general election campaign as the least-popular candidate to represent either party in modern times," report Philip Rucker and Robert Costa.
"Three-quarters of women view him unfavorably. So do nearly two-thirds of independents, 80 percent of young adults, 85 percent of Hispanics and nearly half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
"Those findings, tallied from Washington Post-ABC News polling, fuel Trump’s overall 67 percent unfavorable rating — making Trump more disliked than any major-party nominee in the 32 years the survey has been tracking candidates."
“Normally, when you’re in a hole, the best advice is to stop digging. That doesn’t appear to be his inclination,” GOP strategist David Carney said. “It’s like taking a wagon full of nitroglycerine across the prairie. It’s great if you get to the mountains and blow them up for gold. But it’s pretty unpredictable.”
It's the latest depressing development for Trump, amid the worst week of his campaign. And as Chris Cillizza points out, now's a particularly bad time for a stumble.
"Losing Wisconsin wouldn't zero out Trump's chances of getting to 1,237. But it make the odds far longer than if he were to win convincingly. To put it simply: Losing Wisconsin would erase any margin of error for Trump in the states still waiting to vote," he writes. "...This week looks and feels like a gigantic momentum-killer for Trump at a time when he can least afford it."
Trump met with officials at Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington today, two days after he walked back a pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee if he does not win the nomination himself.
“Just had a very nice meeting with @Reince Priebus and the @GOP. Looking forward to bringing the Party together — and it will happen!” Trump tweeted Thursday afternoon.
But the fallout from his pledge walkback continued today, reported Zeke Miller, with news those comments could hypothetically cost him the automatic support of the 50 delegates he won in South Carolina -- if he wavers on the party loyalty pledge, they might not necessarily be bound to abide by primary results and back him. Would Republicans really go through with that sort of move? Nobody really knows (not even them.) We do know that Donald Trump -- and his supporters -- would not take the development well.
(His efforts to battle delegate drain kicked into high gear this week with a complaint to the RNC -- and a lawsuit threat -- over apportionment in Louisiana, and the arrival of delegate-wrangling veteran Paul Manafort.)
Meanwhile, Ted Cruz has increasingly stressed the fact that he would have a similar reaction to any scenario that included candidates other than Donald Trump and himself. "In interviews this week, Cruz has repeatedly invoked the RNC's rule 40b, which allows candidates to be nominated only if they've won total delegate majorities in eight states or more," reported Dave Weigel. "That rule, hastily written in 2012 after then-Rep. Ron Paul of Texas nearly grabbed enough wins to be nominated, is now favored by allies of both Cruz and Donald Trump as a way of making [John] Kasich — or any establishment 'savior' — irrelevant."
"I think that would be a terrible idea for the Washington power brokers to change the rules, because they’re unhappy with the candidates who the voters are voting for," Cruz told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday. "It was the Washington establishment that put this rule in place. So now when the Washington establishment candidates are losing, they want to change the rules to try to parachute in some candidate who hasn’t earned the votes of the people. That is nothing short of crazy."
(Of course, Cruz himself hasn't yet met the current threshold, which requires a candidate to have not just wins, but delegate majorities in at least eight states. Cruz has nine wins so far; of those, six represented delegate majorities.)
As Cruz tried to knock Kasich out of convention consideration, the pro-Kasich New Day for America super PAC fired back. It released a new spot that borrows a Cruz nickname from Donald Trump ("Lyin' Ted"), and its imagery from your worst nightmares.
The ad -- in which Cruz's nose grows, eventually wrapping itself around his neck -- is the work of Fred Davis, the man responsible for the legendary Demon Sheep ad (reminder before you click: that spot is nightmare fuel. View during daylight hours only.)
The new spot is "unsettling, creepy and provocative — three things Kasich's long-shot presidential bid could probably do with more of," says Aaron Blake. "The candidate himself has avoided attacking his opponents much, but the super PAC is here to do his dirty work for him."
SURVEYING THE FALL LANDSCAPE: Terrain is getting rougher for the GOP.
Two weeks ago, Senate Democrats launched their "ReTrumplican" campaign, looking to link Hill Republicans to their party's front-runner. Amid the GOP scramble to shore up its defenses, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has now released an apparent beta test of their own attack plan.
The NRSC "launched a five-state digital ad campaign Thursday, releasing four similar web ads set to run on YouTube and Facebook tying Democratic candidates to the approval of the Iran nuclear deal, the rise of the self-declared Islamic State and President Obama’s desire to close the military prison at Guantanamo," reports Mike DeBonis.
"The ads released Thursday target four Democrats. One is Sen. Michael Bennet of Colo., who is considered to be the sole Democratic incumbent in a competitive race this fall. The others are candidates Jason Kander of Missouri, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania. A fifth ad is set to be released next week.
"Each ad tars the Democrat as 'just another supporter of Obama’s weak foreign policy' and features a snippet of the candidate’s record on national security matters."
Republicans are hoping that spots like this will help swing state lawmakers weather a loss at the top of the ticket. But what happens if a hurricane hits -- like, say, a hypothetical landslide win for the Democratic presidential nominee?
Larry Sabato and his team at the University of Virginia released their first Electoral College projection of the year today. Based on current trends, there were more than a dozen changes made to the forecast issued in 2015. All of those changes favored Democrats.
"Election analysts prefer close elections, but there was nothing we could do to make this one close," they wrote. If the matchup were Clinton-Trump, they calculated that she would receive as many as 347 electoral votes. If the GOP nominee were anyone but Trump, they said, any voter gains would likely be counter-balanced with the loss of a significant bloc of outraged Trump supporters: "Thus, it could be the nightmare scenario for the party of Lincoln: Heads you lose, tails you lose."
IF THEY CAN MAKE IT THERE...
The state of Wisconsin heads to the polls on Tuesday. The state of New York votes two weeks later.
There's a good chance you knew that. Looking at the campaign schedules for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, you might be forgiven for thinking they didn't. With a tight race back in Wisconsin, where Sanders appears to have taken a small single-digit lead, both candidates spent the day in the Empire State: Sanders held an evening rally in the Bronx, and Clinton campaigned a short drive away in Westchester, near her home.
Both were back on home turf based on the same calculation: a photo-finish victory in Wisconsin is likely to leave the winner with, at best, an advantage that amounts to a handful of the state's 86 delegates, thanks to the Democratic Party's proportional system. But in New York, the landscape looks a lot different.
Clinton currently holds a lead in the double digits that appears to be narrowing dramatically. If Clinton can hold on to her current lead, it would represent a crushing blow to Sanders (with the impact of any victory magnified by the fact that New York's 247 delegates represent the second-biggest haul in the Democratic race.)
Sanders is feeling some momentum -- but even if he doesn't chalk up a win, it's crucial to narrow the gap. His team says he has a path to a delegate lead that can work without a New York victory (though they won't say what it is.) Of course, for it to happen he'd have to both erase Clinton's leads in the three remaining large primary states -- New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California -- and win 71 percent of the delegates in the remaining contests. He'd also have to talk hundreds of super delegates into switching sides. (This is where a voter mandate could be a critical talking point. Right now, though, Clinton has 45 percent more actual votes than Sanders.)
The Vermont senator does continue to dominate one key metric, passing $42 million and shooting for more as tonight's March fundraising deadline neared.
With the campaign moving back to New York, it probably makes sense that the trail might feel a bit more...unfiltered. Today, the state's former senator showed some edge when asked a question about donations from fossil fuel companies. Her response: "I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about me."
Clinton would prefer to pivot to her possible faceoff with another New Yorker; her campaign released a spot today hitting Donald Trump over his statement yesterday about the possible prosecution of women who have illegal abortions, a remark he later walked back.
SPOTTED: #BirdieSanders lives.
THE VIEW FROM THE FIELD: A BRONX CHEER FOR BERNIE
TRAIL MIX: The D.C. Board of Elections plans a hearing next week to address the filing snafu that would otherwise leave Bernie Sanders off the primary ballot.
--Hillary Clinton got the Page Six treatment over a very pricey salon visit.
--The White House denounced Trump’s Asian nuclear idea as "catastrophic": The suggestion that Japan and S. Korea obtain weapons runs counter to decades of U.S. policy, a senior adviser said.
YOUR DAILY TRAIL PIT STOP: THE GREAT PIZZA DEBATE At some point in the dimly remembered past, someone decided that candidates for the nation's highest office would be required to publicly consume local cuisine that requires the sacrifice of most diet regimens, and at least some dignity. (No, it is not a constitutional requirement. Yet. But it is no less inviolate.)
Yesterday, John Kasich paid his ritual respects to the city of New York with the ceremonial consumption of a slice at Gino's Pizzeria and Restaurant in Queens. (This was a good move.) He began with a knife and fork. (That wasn't.)
Yes, that is a perfectly acceptable way to eat pizza. It may even be the way most people eat pizza in certain areas of this country. But as New York mayor Bill de Blasio learned the hard way: eating pizza publicly with utensils anywhere in the five boroughs can result in some major heartburn.
Kasich seems to have caught himself, discarding the silverware midway through the meal (though not folding the slice, as per Big Apple tradition.)
It was too late.
That's right -- GOP front-runner (and certified native New Yorker) Donald Trump has also been spotted consuming pizza via the silverware method. Today, Kasich pushed back at critics.
"Look, the pizza came scalding hot -- okay? And so I used a little fork," he said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "You know what? My wife who is on spring break with my daughters said, 'I'm proud of you. You finally learned how to use a utensil properly.’ But I mean -- not only did I eat the pizza, I had the hot sausage. It was fantastic."
Even some liberals came to his defense.