THE STORY IS THE GOP BASE, NOT TRUMP’S LEAD…. Last week, an NBC poll showed reality-show personality Donald Trump running second nationwide in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Earlier this week, a CNN poll showed Trump tied for the lead.

This morning, Public Policy Polling shows the strange man actually taking the lead.

Trump’s broken the perpetual gridlock we’ve found at the top of the Republican field, getting 26% to 17% for Mike Huckabee, 15% for Romney, 11% for Newt Gingrich, 8% for Sarah Palin, 5% for Ron Paul, and 4% for Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty.

The same poll found 23% of Republican primary voters — nearly a fourth — will only consider birthers when picking a presidential candidate, while 38% will only consider candidates who reject the racist conspiracy theory (the rest weren’t sure).

Yes, it’s true that at this stage in the process, high name recognition plays a significant role, and Trump has been a well known national figure for many years. But that alone doesn’t explain the results from three credible national polls. Indeed, they can’t — Trump was just as well known last month, and his support wasn’t nearly this strong.

But while the PPP survey seems likely to touch off another round of discussion about Trump’s viability as a national candidate, I still think that’s missing the point. In fact, I don’t really expect him to run for office at all.

The likely reason Trump’s support is so high is his willingness to run around to media outlets, spewing conspiracy theories and bizarre ideas that resonate with easily-fooled extremists. And as the lunacy gets more intense, polls show more Republican voters gravitating to the guy.

The symptoms aren’t as relevant as the disease. In this case, the GOP base includes a big chunk of very strange people who connect with a clownish television personality who’s playing to their worst instincts.

And that’s what’s important here. What the polls tell us about Trump’s support is secondary to what the polls tell us about the hysterical wing of the Republican Party and their prominence in the contemporary GOP.

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. The question isn’t whether Trump can win; the question is what we’re learning about the strain of madness running through today’s Republican Party.

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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.