A PUBLICITY STUNT GONE HORRIBLY AWRY, CONT’D…. I’d be far more inclined to ignore Donald Trump’s existence, were it not for the fact that Republican voters actually seem impressed with the ridiculous television personality. Take this new CNN poll, for example.

Donald Trump is now tied with Mike Huckabee for first place when Republicans are asked who they support for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, according to a new national poll. […]

Nineteen percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents questioned in the poll say that as of now, they’d be most likely to support Trump for next year’s GOP presidential nomination. Trump says he’ll decide by June whether he runs for the White House. An equal amount say they’d back Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate says he’ll decide by later this year if he’ll make another bid for the White House.

After Trump and Huckabee, Palin is third in the poll with 12%, followed by Romney and Gingrich at 11% each.

Trump’s support has nearly doubled over the last month.

The CNN poll comes a week after an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll running a close second nationally among self-identified Republicans. Among those who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters, Trump was first.

At this stage in the process, high name recognition is obviously going to play a significant role, and Trump has been a well known national figure for many years. But that alone doesn’t explain results like these. Indeed, they can’t — Trump was just as well known last month, and his support wasn’t nearly this strong.

The difference is, Trump has been running around to every media outlet he can find, spewing conspiracy theories and bizarre ideas that resonate with easily-fooled extremists. And as the lunacy gets more intense, polls suddenly show more Republican voters gravitating to the guy.

To reiterate a point from last week, this isn’t complicated — the GOP base includes a big chunk of very strange people. When a clownish television personality plays to their worst instincts, these folks are inclined to like what they see.

I still think Trump’s sudden interest in electoral politics is just an elaborate publicity stunt, closer to a practical joke than an actual campaign. Indeed, even the right-wing fringe will balk when they learn Trump was a pro-choice advocate of universal health care, a donor to Democratic candidates, and a supporter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But what matters here is what the latest polls tell us about the hysterical wing of the Republican Party. A reality-show personality has been whining incessantly about the president’s birth certificate, and a sizeable contingent of the GOP base has decided that’s enough to make him an attractive presidential candidate.

Trump’s a sideshow. The real story here is the madness that’s overcome a few too many Republican voters.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.