Something new and juicy from Rasmussen currently parked at the top of Drudge as a “shock poll.” Trump won’t really be a “likely” nominee until he starts handily winning head-to-head match-ups with Bush, Walker, Rubio, and Cruz, but you can understand why Republicans would feel this way. He’s leading all the polls, he’s got more charisma than the rest of the field combined, and his name’s been mentioned on cable news seemingly every eight seconds for the last two months. No one else in the race has found a way to siphon off his supporters (yet). If you’re an average voter, why wouldn’t you think Trump can go the distance?

The potential significance of this poll lies in the extent to which it might become a self-fulfilling prophesy. The biggest knock on Trump this fall once early-state Republicans get serious about the race will be that he’s a clown who can’t possibly win. The longer his lead persists, though, the more seriously he’ll be taken. If you’ve already got a majority of likely voters thinking he could be the nominee, that may open up some undecideds to considering that he should be.

Our latest national telephone survey finds that 57% of Likely Republican Voters now think Trump is likely to be the Republican presidential nominee next year, with 25% who say it’s Very Likely. That compares to 27% who felt a Trump nomination was likely two months ago when he formally announced his presidential bid, a finding that included just nine percent (9%) who said it was Very Likely.

At that time, Trump ran near the bottom among the 12 declared GOP candidates. Now he leads the pack of Republican hopefuls which has grown to include 17 prominent contenders…

Forty-two percent (42%) of Republican voters say Trump is unlikely to be their party’s standard-bearer next year, but that includes just 15% who say it’s Not At All Likely. That’s down from 29% who said a Trump nomination was Not At All Likely two months ago.

One caveat: In theory, 57 percent saying that Trump is likely to be the nominee should mean that just 43 percent total say so of all of the other candidates. That’s not the way it works, though (I think). A voter may think it’s “fairly likely” that Trump will be the nominee while also thinking it’s “fairly likely” that Jeb Bush will. In fact, I wonder how often the current frontrunner in the polls doesn’t lead when people are also asked who’s most likely to be the eventual nominee. I can imagine cases where the two wouldn’t be the same — maybe, say, when Herman Cain shot to the top of the polls for a few weeks in 2011 as an obvious “Anyone But Romney” choice — but then, that’s just further reason to take Trump semi-seriously. If he were being treated as a joke, as little more than a protest vote, he shouldn’t be leading in this metric, right? What does it say that he is?

By the way, if you’re wondering what the GOP establishment’s master plan is to stop Trump cold and set the nomination back on course for a more traditional candidate, there … doesn’t appear to be one:

Though flummoxed by Trump’s staying power and aghast at the coarse tone he has brought to the race, party elites said they have no plan to take him down. Donors feel powerless. Republican officials have little leverage. Candidates are skittish. Super PAC operatives say attack ads against him could backfire. And everyone agrees that the Trump factor in this chaotic multi-candidate field is so unpredictable that any move carries dangerous risks…

“No one has figured out how to handle Trump,” said former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean Sr. (R). “Everyone underestimated him terribly from Day One. But as someone who knows him and knew his father — the whole family — I can assure you, that was a mistake.”

The “plan,” such as it is, is to simply hope and pray that Republican voters won’t possibly do something as goofy as nominate the guy from “The Apprentice,” especially when there are solid alternatives from every ideological niche of the party out there to satisfy them. (Democrats reacted the same way to Deanmania among the lefty base in 2003 and ended up being proved right when primary voters opted for the “safer” pick, John Kerry, instead.) Mike Murphy, formerly one of Jeb Bush’s top advisors and currently the head of his Super PAC, told WaPo that Team Bush is glad to have Trump in the race because they’re confident they’ll beat him head-to-head if it comes to that. Quote:

https://twitter.com/murphymike/status/634775505267490816

Yeah, if I had to bet, I’d bet on Trump going the way of Dean in 2003 eventually. But it must be noted: Despite trailing several other candidates head-to-head in that PPP poll of North Carolina published earlier this week, Trump led Jeb Bush by eight points. If there’s one candidate among the top tier who might give undecideds a reason to opt for Trump instead of the “safe” choice, it’s Bush 3.0. The populist versus the princeling is not a good narrative for Jeb.

Exit question: This tweet from former Trump advisor Roger Stone is just a joke designed to taunt Jeb. Isn’t it?