Mr. Trump’s harsher Republican critics are kidding themselves to think Mr. Trump is crazy or unstable and will suffer a breakdown. More likely, he will simply and coldbloodedly toss the ball to the GOP, saying, in effect, “If you want to pay for some events or TV, I’m available. Otherwise I’m done.” The GOP would then have to shoulder the dual burden of propping up a minimally respectable Trump campaign while also distancing its down-ballot candidates from Mr. Trump so they might survive.

And that’s the optimistic scenario. Mr. Trump has learned the value of audacity. He might well decide to cover his retreat and preserve his amour propre with a flurry of lawsuits and conspiracy theories about a “rigged” election…

Republicans can also expect to be a target of his accusations. He doesn’t need to be plausible, just tell a story that justifies his own stance that he didn’t lose, the other side cheated, “Washington elites” conspired against him, etc.

If the Trump endgame is destined to go this way, Republicans should hope it does so early, ideally before the convention is even over. To date, Mr. Trump continues to tease top GOPers and conservatives with the idea that he may yet come their way, turn his formidable talents to advancing conservative causes. This merciless exploiting of Republican romantics has begun to seem like something out of “The Blue Angel” or Lucy with the football.