You can use this as an open thread if you like — the debate starts at 6 p.m. ET on CNBC — but the thought of Jindal, Graham, Santorum, and smilin’ George Pataki jawing at each other for another 75 minutes feels less like political entertainment than an especially talky episode of “The Walking Dead.” This has to be the last undercard debate. Right?

While we wait, here’s an aperitif for Trump fans: The latest national poll from YouGov has him north of 30 percent, comfortably ahead of Ben Carson.


Combine the first and second choices and Carson’s just a point behind. Also of note: This is a poll of Republican registered voters, not likely voters. It may be the case, as yesterday’s Reuters poll suggests, that Trump does worse in polls of likely voters because some chunk of his base consists of disaffected Republicans who don’t much bother to vote anymore. If Trump can convince those people to turn out, he’s an even bigger threat to win than everyone thinks. If he can’t, then some of the splashier polls, like this one, showing him leading big among registered voters are overstating his actual strength on election night. In fact, this is just the second poll tracked by RCP since September 10th to show Trump north of 30 percent. The other, from ABC/WaPo, was also a poll of registered voters.

Even so, there are good numbers for Trump here on his potential electability. That’s supposed to be his weak point — a subset of angry Republicans might back him as a way of flipping the bird to the establishment, but everyone knows he can’t really win, right? Sooner or later he’s going to fade. Here’s the result when people are asked whom the most likely GOP nominee is right now:


Among Republicans, it’s no contest. Fully 41 percent say Trump compared to just 17 for Carson. Mr. Electability, Jeb Bush, doesn’t even crack double digits — and as further evidence of how underwhelming Bush has been, he now trails Trump in this metric among Democrats too. You can dismiss that as a product of fame and four months of daily breathless headlines about Trump shaking up the race, but at some point that becomes a self-reinforcing phenomenon: A sturdy plurality prefer Trump, which generates media buzz, which influences Republicans to believe Trumpmania is here to stay, which bolsters the sturdy plurality who prefer Trump. Likewise, when you ask whether various Republican candidates could win the general election, only one cracks 50 percent across the adult population. It’s not Jeb, although he’s close at 46 percent overall (45 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Republicans). It’s not Carson either, although he’s also at 46 percent (just 34 percent of Dems versus 76 percent of Republicans think he could win). It’s Trump:


The difference-maker between him, Bush, and Carson isn’t Democrats or Republicans but independents. In Bush’s case, 42 percent of indies think he can win the general. In Carson’s case, just 38 percent do. Trump has made believers of a majority of independents. Now, can he make registered Republican voters of them? That’s how he wins the primaries, if so.