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Poll: half of Republicans think Trump is the future; half think he’s damaging the party

 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd at a campaign rally on March 7, 2016, in Concord, North Carolina.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd at a campaign rally on March 7, 2016, in Concord, North Carolina.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Republicans are facing a reckoning.

We’ve known this for some time — it’s been several weeks since animosity toward Donald Trump among Republican elites has spilled into the open. But now we have a national poll showing that anxiety with Trump extends to the Republican electorate more broadly.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that Republicans are essentially split down the middle: 45 percent say Trump is having a positive effect on the GOP, while 43 percent say he is actively harming the party.

That’s an astonishingly large share of Republicans, given that Trump holds a sizable delegate lead and is projected to win handily in upcoming contests, including in rival Marco Rubio’s home state of Florida.

What’s more, only 53 percent of Republican voters surveyed said they would feel satisfied if Trump became their party’s nominee. That’s historically low; in 2012, with the Tea Party wing of the GOP up in arms over Mitt Romney’s nomination, 72 percent of Republicans voters said they'd be satisfied with a Romney nomination. By contrast, 78 percent of Democrats currently say they’d be satisfied with a Clinton nomination.

The widespread antipathy toward Trump is certainly noteworthy. And it’s fair to expect that his highly unfavorable marks with the electorate overall (nearly two-thirds of surveyed voters in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll hold a negative view of him) could harm him with undecided voters in the general election.

Still, it’s entirely unclear whether Republicans rallying under the #NeverTrump hashtag or young conservatives who told Vox that they would never vote for Trump will keep their promises.

After all, the Republicans who are concerned that Trump is sabotaging their party are not very likely to defect to Hillary Clinton.

"Most people’s partisan loyalty comes before their policy preferences," Hans Noel, a political scientist at Georgetown and Vox contributor, told Vox: "If the party establishment completely stonewalls supporting Trump, then it may hurt him. But he’ll still be the choice of most people who don’t want a Democrat."