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Post Debate Poll: Trump, Carson Lead, Cruz Third

The first poll taken after the CNBC Republican debate finds Donald Trump and Ben Carson still ahead of the Republican field.

With 26 percent support each, the two first-time candidates command support from more than half of Republican voters nationwide. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz enjoyed a big bounce from his performance, rising to third, with 10 percent. No other candidates earn double-digit support in the poll, from NBC News/Survey Monkey.

Among those Republicans who watched the debate, Trump edges Carson, 25-24, while Cruz’s support jumps to 17 percent. Nearly a quarter of Republicans said Cruz did the best in the debate. He was followed closely by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, with one-in-five Republicans saying he did best. Trump and then Carson round out the top 4 performances in the debate, according to Republican voters.

Jeb Bush was widely seen as “losing” the debate. Almost 40 percent of Republican voters say he did the “worst” in the debate. No other candidate fared as poorly among Republicans. Bush is a distant fifth in the national poll, with just 5 percent support.

Rubio also got a lift from his debate performance. He is fourth in the NBC poll, with 9 percent support nationally. In order, according to this poll, the candidates are Trump and Carson tied at 26, Cruz 10, Rubio 9, Bush 5, Fiorina 4, everyone else at 2 percent or less.

It is noteworthy that Trump, Carson and Cruz, who have all run campaigns explicitly against Republicans in Washington, command the support of more than 60 percent of Republicans across the country. Rubio and Bush, who are widely seen as competing for the support of the Republican establishment, together earn only 14 percent support from Republicans.

The political press is currently obsessed with the intensifying battle between Rubio and Bush over supporters. As cat-fights go, it has its own drama, to be sure. Currently, though, Rubio and Bush are fighting over relatively small turf. The Republican electorate seems to have moved far beyond their campaigns.

The boost to Ted Cruz is especially revealing. Cruz “won” the debate largely as a result of his epic smack down of the overtly biased CNBC debate moderators. His monologue against the moderators’ twisted questions won the biggest applause from the audience and was repeated in virtually every news story about the debate.

Rubio also benefited by correctly challenging moderator John Harwood’s incorrect statements about his tax plans and successfully countering Bush’s weak challenge on the Florida Senator’s absence from Senate votes.

There are largely lessons here for the Republican party, if it chooses to listen. An overwhelming majority of its voters reject the party’s leadership in Washington. Republican voters are also eager for a candidate or standard-bearer who will stand up to the media, rather than run from it.

The NBC/Survey Monkey poll was conducted Tuesday-Thursday, including some interviews from before the debate on Wednesday. The poll interviewed 3,387 Republican or Republican-leaning registered voters and has a margin of error of 2.3 percent.

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