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Donald Trump gathers a coalition of the unwilling


Oh, how the mighty are falling in line, if not in love. The most stalwart Donald Trump deniers among establishment Republicans are clambering to get on board. Support is a depreciating asset: Wait until the train leaves the station at the Cleveland convention and you'll get little for swallowing your pride, abandoning your conscience and stifling your fears.

A corollary of that is that the higher-placed the opponent, the more valuable the capitulation. That's why South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham getting with the program over the weekend is so important. It's part of bringing a divided party back together. Without that, it is hard to win. What should worry Hillary Clinton are new polls showing that Trump is within three points of her. More worrying for her is the speed at which the Republicans are coming together: In an NBC-WSJ poll, Trump is winning among Republicans over Clinton 86 percent to 6 percent, up from 72 percent to 13 percent a month ago.

Complete capitulation by Graham is unlikely but acceptance of Trump by the most outspoken Never-Trump senator is a notable step toward a united convention in July. You may remember that Trump lashed out at Graham by giving out his private mobile-phone number, and that Graham responded by destroying said phone in front of TV cameras.

Throughout the campaign, as a conservative in good standing, Graham's biting criticisms carried weight. He called Trump a "race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot" in December. A few weeks later, in January, Graham said he would support neither Trump nor Texas Sen. Ted Cruz -- a choice he said was like deciding whether to be "shot or poisoned." By March, when it looked as if nothing was working to stop Trump, he threw his weight behind Cruz. Apparently, given the choice, he did prefer one kind of death over another.

Graham's desperate move to Cruz didn't work but he stood firm. Even as Trump clinched the nomination, Graham wasn't having any part of it. As recently as the beginning of this month, Graham said he wouldn't support his party's presumptive nominee. "I do not believe he is a reliable Republican conservative nor has he displayed the judgment and temperament to serve as commander in chief," Graham said.

Count Graham now in the conned column. The shift started Friday when Graham said on CNN that he had a "cordial, pleasant" call from Trump in which they talked about national security, the scariest of Trump's governing shortfalls and an area in which he needs all the tutoring he can get.

"My criticism has been wide and it's been deep but we did have a good conversation," he said. "He asked good questions."

Hmmmmm. That's not a lot to hang a change of heart on but when you want to come around, any fig leaf will do. The usually sober Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker softened after Trump's first speech on foreign affairs. Trump, who'd pronounced himself his best adviser, did not garner good reviews, with most experts calling the speech incoherent at best, but Corker said it was "very thoughtful."

And so it goes.

True enough, Clinton will unite her side when the primaries are over. But that comes with an asterisk that Trump doesn't have to deal with. Trump had no one person among his 16 opponents for the nomination leading a movement. Clinton has one such person, Senator Bernie Sanders, a figure who's accrued a devoted following among young people. A recent ABC-Washington Post poll shows Clinton is losing 20 percent of Sanders's supporters. Compare that to the 11 percent of Republicans who supported someone other than Trump for the nomination. It's not that the 20 percent isn't going to show up for Clinton. They say they will show up to vote for Trump.

There are holdouts -- the Bush family, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, freshman Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, and the hemming and hawing House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wyoming -- but there's pressure coming from peace-at-any-cost Republican National Chairman Reince Priebius to come around.

Within 24 hours of his CNN appearance, Graham's inclination not to endorse Trump had melted to the point where he was urging others in the party to do so. At a private fundraiser in Florida, Graham urged Republicans to back Trump, saying that any doubts they have should be erased by the greater evil of having a Clinton back in the White House.

Count among other holdouts some major donors, according to the New York Times, including the very articulate investor Michael Vlock. Explaining his closed wallet, he said of Trump: "He's an ignorant, amoral, dishonest and manipulative, misogynistic, philandering, hyper-litigious, isolationist, protectionist blowhard."

Graham couldn't have said it better -- a few weeks ago. For his early and flattering remarks, Corker has joined the short list of vice-presidential possibilities. Little Marco told a Miami radio station that he'd always said he would support the Republican nominee, especially given that the likely Democratic candidate is Clinton. Lyin' Ted is having a hard time getting over, well, being called Lyin' Ted among other things, and has not yet folded. But, every day there will be others who, short of falling in love, will fall in line.

Write Margaret Carlson, a Bloomberg View columnist, at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net