A new NBC News/WSJ poll shows Donald Trump leading the Republican field with 33 percent support, far ahead of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 20 percent.
They’re followed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and neurosurgeon Ben Carson with 13 percent and 12 percent respectively.
Trump’s 13-point lead over second-place Cruz is more than double the five-point edge he enjoyed last month. Contrary to the conventional wisdom from a phalanx of pundits, Trump is gaining support as voting draws nearer.
Perhaps more importantly for Trump, GOP voters seem far more favorable to the frontrunner than before the campaign began. In March, just 23 percent of Republicans said they could consider supporting Trump as the nominee. Today, however, 65 percent of rank-and-file Republicans say they could support him in November.
This is essentially the same as the number of Republicans, 67 percent, who say they could support Marco Rubio as the nominee. By contrast, only 42 percent of Republicans say they could support Jeb Bush as the nominee. Bush’s number, in fact, is very nearly a death sentence with the first votes just a few weeks away.
Cruz leads the field on this question, with 71 percent of Republicans saying they could support him as the nominee.
In a three-way match up, Trump beats both Cruz and Rubio with 40 percent of the vote. Cruz is second with 31 percent, followed by Rubio in third with 26 percent.
Cruz remains, in fact, the only nominee currently threatening Donald Trump for the nomination. In head-to-head match-ups, Cruz beats Trump by 51 percent to 43 percent, while Rubio would lose to Trump by 45 percent to 52 percent.
That data suggests four-out-of-five Rubio voters would support Cruz over Trump, and almost two-of-three of Cruz’s supporters would pick Rubio over Trump.
This is the second recent poll to show that Rubio doesn’t enjoy a bounce from other establishment candidates getting out of the race. So it is likely that the 26 percent Rubio earns in a three-way race is the ceiling for an establishment-aligned candidate this cycle.
Many pundits have predicted that, if other more mainstream candidates like Chris Christie, Jeb Bush or John Kasich dropped out, Rubio could consolidate their supporters and topple Trump or Cruz from the leading positions.
That seems increasingly like magical thinking on the part of pundits.
Even if a Republican voter isn’t supporting Cruz or Trump as their first choice, they are more comfortable supporting either of them, clear outsiders, as the party’s nominee than one of the other candidates. That fact, itself, goes a long way to explain this primary season.