A surprising number of Republicans think Donald Trump is their best hope in 2016

The big headline out of new CNN/ORC polling in Nevada and South Carolina is that real estate magnate Donald Trump holds wide leads in each state. But more fascinating to me than those topline numbers is the large bloc of Republicans in those two states who see him as their most electable candidate in the 2016 general election.

In Nevada, 47 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers said Trump “has the best chance of winning the general election next November.” In South Carolina, that number is 44 percent. In both states, Ben Carson is a distant second to Trump on the question; Carson got 16 percent in Nevada and 17 percent in South Carolina. Jeb Bush, whose entire candidacy is premised on the idea that he is the most electable Republican in the field, is seen as the party’s best chance by just 7 percent of voters in South Carolina and Nevada.

To put this in the simplest possible terms: Donald Trump is leading Jeb Bush on the electability question by 40 percentage points in Nevada. Forty!

Now, some of Trump’s edge on electability is due to the fact that he is ahead by almost 20 points in both Nevada and South Carolina on the ballot test. When you are winning the horse race by a wide margin, it’s likely you are ahead in lots of the other questions further down in the poll.

But even with that said, it’s worth taking note of Trump’s electability appeal — especially since it seems to run counter to most polling that suggests Trump would be among the weakest of the Republican nominees. (In a September Washington Post-ABC News national poll, Hillary Clinton led Trump by 12 points among all adults and by three points among registered voters.)

It also suggests that Trump’s appeal, at least at the moment, isn’t rooted in a sort of protest against the establishment that will eventually dissipate as actual votes draw nearer. The fact that more than 4 in 10 likely Republican voters believe Trump is the guy who can win back the White House for the GOP should be a wake up call/reality check for many establishment Republicans who continue to roll their eyes at the idea of Trump actually emerging as their party’s standard-bearer.

Trump, for his part, is already focused on the general election match-up against Hillary Clinton. He tweeted — of course — his thoughts on that prospect Wednesday afternoon.

The debate last night proved that Hillary is running against the “B” team. She won’t be so lucky when it comes to me!

Chris Cillizza