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Even as bewildered pundits watched Donald Trump morph from blustery media mogul to incomprehensible birther, his poll numbers as an honest-to-god GOP presidential contender are climbing. Case-in-point: today's Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that, among GOP primary voters, Trump is tied for second with Mike Huckabee at 17 percent support and trails leader Mitt Romney (21 percent) in a nine candidate race. That follows Public Policy Polling's result yesterday showing the celebrity mogul giving the Republican frontrunner "a run for his money" in New Hampshire, where Trump also came in second.

So, at what point does the political press corps have to start taking Trump seriously? Sure, it's just another poll many months away from any actual Republican primaries. But there will be endless and very important political prognostication about other candidates who do well in opinion polls, because--other than fundraising--that's all there is to talk about. 

Trump "may be a punch line but when he talks about the way to solve our problems, he makes a lot of sense to the average guy out there," said Todd Mauney, a token average guy that the Journal decided to quote for proof of Trump's populist appeal. Other recent polls have reinforced this perplexing sentiment of the corporate titan as populist firebreather.

The reason Trump continues to be thought of as a joke (other than that he's conveniently timed his decision to when it would best help the ratings of his NBC reality show The Apprentice) is that he's riding a wave of skepticism about Obama's citizenship--a position a wide swath of people from New York Times editor Bill Keller to soon-to-be ex-Fox News personality Glenn Beck thinks is patently insane.

But, according to the PPP poll, 42 percent of New Hampshire Republicans say they are sure Obama wasn't born in the U.S. and another 23 percent aren't sure. That's two thirds of the Republican party in a pivotal first-in-the-nation primary state. Trump appears to have carved out a very serviceable niche for himself as a primary strategy. Too bad there's no way it could possibly work in the general election. Right?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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