Trump leaving rivals in the dust

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Donald TrumpDonald TrumpIt's time for Sanders to exit stage left Navy SEAL congressman endorses Trump RNC official: We won’t go full Trump on party platform MORE’s lead over the Republican primary field is growing, with new polls putting him well ahead of his rivals in two early primary states.

The real estate magnate has opened up a 24-point lead in New Hampshire, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, with 35 percent of likely GOP primary voters supporting him.

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No other Republican came anywhere near that level of support. Ohio Gov. John Kasich came the closest, polling at 11 percent.

Trump’s dominance extends to South Carolina, another crucial early primary state.

A new Monmouth University poll puts Trump at 30 percent support in South Carolina, double that of second-place finisher Ben Carson, who was the choice of 15 percent of the state’s likely Republican primary voters.

Trump scored seven times more support in South Carolina than rival Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamRomney should endorse Clinton Graham: I'm still not supporting Trump North Korean official calls Trump idea of meeting 'nonsense' MORE, who has represented the state in Congress for more than 20 years.

Combined with polls that show him out front in Iowa, Trump now has a clear lead in the first three early-voting states in the Republican primary process — the states that typically determine who becomes the party’s nominee.

The polling released this week marks two months since the start of Trump’s meteoric rise, which has seen him overtake his rivals despite a series of controversial statements and questions about his electability in a match-up against Democratic front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonIt's time for Sanders to exit stage left Navy SEAL congressman endorses Trump RNC’s Katie Walsh: A behind-the-scenes leader MORE.

While Trump is undoubtedly benefitting from the large size of Republican field, which is splitting the vote among 17 candidates, he is also siphoning away support from the candidates who were expected to be favorites for the nomination.

Gov. Scott Walker (Wis.), who in the past polled well within double digits in New Hampshire and South Carolina, is now down to just 4 percent in Monmouth’s South Carolina poll and 7 percent in PPP’s New Hampshire poll.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush (Fla.) has also seen his numbers dip during Trump’s rise.

Early South Carolina polling had Bush leading the state through mid-June, before Trump jumped into the race. But in Monmouth’s latest poll, Bush is down to just 9 percent support.

Struggling for traction, the GOP candidates have moved to attack Trump head-on. Bush has become especially vocal, questioning whether Trump is truly a conservative while panning his immigration plan.

“I’m a proven conservative with a record, he isn’t,” Bush said last week.

Graham on Tuesday described Trump’s rhetoric on immigration as “demagoguery” that appeals to “a dark side of politics.” He called Trump a “complete idiot” and insisted he would beat him in a one-on-one matchup in South Carolina.

“Come to South Carolina, and I’ll beat his brains out,” Graham said on CNN.

Trump fired back on Twitter, mocking Graham’s showing in the Monmouth poll.

“You just got 4 points in your home state of SC—far better than zero nationally. You’re only 26 pts behind me,” he tweeted.

The attacks from the Republican field have yet to make a dent in Trump’s support. And rather than damaging his candidacy, the attention appears to be solidifying his status as the candidate to beat.

Even a war of words between Trump and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly — which flared again on Tuesday — has yet to thwart his momentum.

While the Republican establishment has long been skeptical of Trump’s chances, one leading GOP pollster says he’s becoming a believer.

After a two-hour focus group on Monday evening, Frank Luntz expressed disbelief at how recordings of Trump's political flip-flops and remarks on women did nothing to dissuade his supporters.

Luntz said it’s time for Republican leaders to “wake up” and realize the grassroots has “abandoned them.”

“You guys understand how significant this is?” Luntz asked reporters, according to Time. “This is real. I’m having trouble processing it. Like, my legs are shaking.”

Luntz had previously predicted the “destruction” of Trump’s candidacy after Fox News’s first debate in early August. But he now told reporters that the celebrity tycoon is here to stay, according to those who attended the focus group on Monday.

“Nothing disqualifies Trump,” he said.

Other pollsters and party strategists still question whether Trump will be able to convert the early support into votes. There is still more than four months to go until the Iowa caucuses, and how the race evolves in the fall is anyone’s guess.

But Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, told The Hill that Trump’s rise is unlike that of any candidate in recent memory.

“He’s broken every rule of the campaign consultant's manual and to no ill effect,” he said. 

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