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This new poll should make the Republican establishment panic and despair

John W. Adkisson/Getty

The Iowa caucuses are just two and a half weeks away — and NBC News and the Wall Street Journal have released a new national poll that shows just how grim things look for the GOP establishment.

The poll, once again, shows Donald Trump leading and Ted Cruz in second place. That's no surprise at this point. But it's long been thought that much of this was due to overcrowding of the field — that after many of these candidates drop out, someone like Marco Rubio could consolidate the establishment-friendly vote and ride it to victory.

According to this poll, though ... not so much.

  • In a three-way contest between Trump, Cruz, and Marco Rubio, Trump leads with 40 percent, Cruz is in second with 31 percent, and Rubio is far back with 26 percent.
  • In a head-to-head contest between Trump and Rubio, Trump wins, 52 percent to 45 percent.
  • In a head-to-head contest between Trump and Cruz, though, Cruz comes out on top, 51 percent to 43 percent.
  • Sixty-five percent of Republican voters said they could see themselves supporting Trump — a new high.

Nothing here is set in stone. Things can change. This is a national poll of a contest that will take place in individual states. The outcomes of the early states could change a great deal: Trump's organization could be revealed as incredibly weak, Iowa Republicans could break late for a more establishment-friendly contender like Iowa Democrats did in 2004, or Rubio could revive his fortunes with an unexpectedly strong performance in an early state.

But Rubio's poor performance in the three-way matchup with Trump and Cruz is really striking. It suggests that the Republican Party isn't Rubio's or Jeb Bush's party anymore but is rather Donald Trump and Ted Cruz's party, and that the GOP may eventually have to follow my colleague Matt Yglesias's advice that party elites' best chance to stop Trump is to swallow their loathing of Cruz and fall behind him.

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