How else could this year of utter failure in resisting Trump have ended except with a total collapse of the “Dump Trump” movement before the Rules Committee got started?

Simple choice for Cruz fans: Go all-in and try to stop Trump now or bless Trump’s nomination in return for primary rules that are marginally more favorable to Ted Cruz in 2020. Sounds like Ken Cuccinelli is, or was, considering door number two:

According to multiple Rules Committee sources, the word is that [Kendal] Unruh, who has organized the anti-Trump rebellion, can’t get anywhere near 28 votes without the aid of Cuccinelli, who is separately rallying support for changes to the Republican Party’s nominating process. Sources say Cuccinelli has realized Unruh won’t have the numbers even with him whipping on her behalf, and is open to brokering an agreement with Priebus under which he wins some modifications in exchange for backing down from the anti-Trump measures and allowing the rest of the Rules Committee meeting to proceed quickly and without the incessant offering of new amendments…

Two smart points from a longtime RNC member, veteran of the Rules Committee and observer of the current negotiations: First, with the meeting recessed until 1 p.m., every minute that goes by is leverage lost for Priebus. If an agreement isn’t reached by the time the committee re-convenes, Unruh and her allies will be emboldened to push forward with their anti-Trump measures. This means, essentially, that Priebus has a 1 p.m. deadline to get a deal done. Second, the RNC official says if Priebus is successful, everyone will get something they want — except Unruh. The RNC chairman will get a smooth Rules Committee meeting; Cuccinelli will get some Cruz-friendly reforms to the primary process. Unruh, however, will get nothing in exchange for watching her anti-Trump efforts wither and die. “Do they have a bone they can throw Kendal?” the RNC official said. “Probably not. I think she goes under the bus.” (Another RNC official says despite Cuccinelli’s realization, Unruh still believes she’ll have 28 votes. “She’s high,” the official said of the Colorado delegate.

Remember, 28 votes is the magic number on the Committee because that’s how many are needed to force a floor vote of all the delegates on whether they should unbind themselves. Unruh spent the last week swearing to every reporter who’ll listen that she has those votes in the bank; they just haven’t been made public yet for fear of retaliation before the convention. She must have been bluffing (as I suspected) or else Cuccinelli wouldn’t have any leverage here with Priebus. The question of the moment is whether Cuccinelli’s telling the truth when he says that Unruh doesn’t have 28 votes even if he’s whipping on her behalf. If that’s true then you can understand why he’d make a deal with Reince on Cruz’s behalf. If “Dump Trump” is destined to fail anyway, why not get what few concessions you can get from the RNC now?

But if it’s true that Unruh doesn’t have the votes even with Cuccinelli in her corner, then why would Reince negotiate with him at all? Priebus must have some sense of which why the Committee is leaning. If he knows “Dump Trump” is about to crash and burn because Unruh can’t produce 28 supporters for her position, he should tell Cuccinelli to kiss off. That is to say, Cuccinelli only has leverage here if there really are 28 votes to unbind the delegates — with his help.

And if that’s true, it means he’s allegedly prepared to forfeit that opportunity to stop Trump in exchange for a few magic beans from Reince for his pal Ted. Judging by how that’s worked out in the past, especially this year, those magic beans are unlikely to grow into anything useful:

The RNC tweaked the primary schedule after Romney’s run in 2012 to front-load the calendar and require fewer debates, thinking those moves would help an establishment candidate like Mitt maintain an early poll lead over an insurgent like Ron Paul. How’d that work out this year?

According to David Drucker, Reince and the pro-Trump contingent want to block Unruh et al. from even offering a “conscience rule” during today’s Committee meeting, although at a minimum they’d like to cut down the number of amendments so that the Committee wraps up before preparation for the convention begins in earnest this weekend. The Committee is supposed to reconvene at 1 p.m. ET; we’ll know more soon. Just as I’m writing this, Tim Alberta offers a new flicker of hope for #NeverTrumpers:

I hope that’s true — for Cruz’s sake. Whether Cuccinelli is freelancing here or not, Erica Grieder’s right that Cruz will be blamed if Cooch sells out the “Dump Trump” delegates before they’ve had a chance to make their case. He may gain a few extra closed primaries but some anti-Trump righties will make him answer in 2020 for Cuccinelli clearing the way for Trump at the convention. In fact, given Hillary’s crumble in the polls, Cuccinelli might be in the process of ensuring Trump becomes president, meaning that Cruz’s ambitions will need to wait another four years until 2024. And who knows what the primary schedule will look like then.

The fact that it was Priebus who refused to meet Cooch’s demands on closed primaries supports the idea that Unruh doesn’t have 28 votes. If Reince knows that “Dump Trump” is going down even with Cuccinelli’s backing, he’d be a fool to offer Team Cruz anything. Exit question: Is/was Mike Lee part of this abortive sellout too, by the way? A little birdie tells me he isn’t, that Cuccinelli’s doing his own thing here. We’ll see.

Update: Is the deal on? New from the Guardian:

The Republican National Committee has offered a deal to conservative grassroots activists to prevent a floor fight over the nomination of Donald Trump, the Guardian has learned.

The RNC has offered to ban independents and Democrats from participating in the first four Republican primaries in the future and to allocate delegate bonuses to states that hold “closed primaries” with only registered Republicans participating.

In return, conservative activists would avoid disrupting the Republican rules committee’s proceedings and not participate in any attempt to deny the nomination to Trump.

This totally clears the way for Ted Cruz Ben Sasse 2020!