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Clinton's wider lead in new poll ends GOP's brief debate respite

The respite for embattled Republicans was all too brief.

After a weekend of scrambling, in which numerous House and Senate incumbents repudiated Donald Trump over lewd videotaped comments, the party held out hope that their nominee's feisty debate attacks on Hillary Clinton would halt his political erosion. But a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on Monday unsettled them anew.

The survey showed Clinton doubling her lead over Trump this weekend following disclosure of his taped remarks to broadcaster Billy Bush. In a four-way race including Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, she now leads by 46 percent to 35 percent; in a two-way matchup, she leads by 52 percent to 38 percent.

Closer to home for down-ballot candidates, Democrats also doubled their lead, to 7 percentage points, when voters are asked which party they want to control Congress. That suggests the Republican House majority, as well as its Senate edge, may be in jeopardy.

House Speaker Paul Ryan reflected the jitters when he told members on a conference call Monday that he would no longer defend Trump and instead would focus on preserving vulnerable members of his caucus. Trump immediately responded with a tweet advising Ryan to focus on the budget and other congressional issues, not him.

The danger for the party is that the combination of internal discord and eroding poll numbers could lead more Republicans to denounce their nominee. That in turn would anger Trump's rank-and-file supporters with unpredictable consequences.

The worst of them would be a collapse in turnout by conservatives that takes down Republicans vying for power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — and with them the GOP agenda of lower taxes and fewer regulations. At the moment, the air of mutual recrimination is not promising for the party.