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Trump, Carson alone in GOP's top tier

Much of the Republican establishment looked forward to the end of August -- but September isn't shaping up any better for party officials.
Republican 2016 presidential candidates pose at the start of the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland
Republican 2016 presidential candidates (L-R), U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, pose together at the start of the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, Aug. 6, 2015.
Much of the Republican establishment looked forward to the end of August. September would mark a change of political seasons, the end of summer flings, and, they hoped, a shift in presidential polling.
Half way through September, these expectations aren't working out particularly well. Consider the new New York Times/CBS News poll, looking at the national race for the GOP presidential nomination.
1. Donald Trump: 27% (up three points since August)
2. Ben Carson: 23% (up 17 points)
3. Jeb Bush: 6% (down seven points)
3. Mike Huckabee 6% (down two points)
3. Marco Rubio 6% (no change)
6. Ted Cruz: 5% (down one point)
7. Carly Fiorina: 4% (up four points)
8. John Kasich: 3% (up two points)
8. Rand Paul: 3% (down one point)
10. Scott Walker: 2% (down eight points)
It's hard to miss the fact that, at least for now, a top tier has taken shape in the Republicans' 16-candidate field. The top two contenders -- who happen to have zero days of experience in public office between them -- are competitive with one another, but note the sharp drop-off after Trump and Carson. They enjoy a combined 50%, while the candidates ranked 3rd to 10th combine for 35%. Bush may be tied for third, but his support is only about a fourth of Carson's.
It's also the second major national poll in as many days to show Walker's support collapsing to just 2%. His national average stands at roughly 4%, which has to be embarrassing for a candidate who, just a few months ago, was seen as a top-tier contender with a credible shot at his party's nomination.
Chris Christie, incidentally, who managed to generate just 1% support in this poll, was tied for 11th place with Rick Perry -- who's already quit.
Of course, as struggling candidates are quick to remind the media, the nominating process isn't a national process so much as it's a state-by-state affair. It's a fair point. The trouble, however, is that the national polls and the polls in the early nominating states aren't terribly different right now.
Here, for example, is the lineup in the new Monmouth poll in New Hampshire, home to the nation's first primary.
1. Donald Trump: 28% (up four points from July)
2. Ben Carson: 17% (up 12 points)
3. John Kasich: 11% (up four points)
4. Ted Cruz: 8% (up five points)
5. Jeb Bush: 7% (down five points)
5. Carly Fiorina: 7% (up four points)
7. Rand Paul: 4% (down one point)
7. Marco Rubio: 4% (down two points)
9. Chris Christie: 2% (down two points)
9. Scott Walker: 2% (down five points)
There are some relevant differences, but again, just as with the national polling, it's Trump and Carson at the top, followed by everyone else.
Remember, for Team Jeb, New Hampshire has long been seen as something of a firewall -- Bush could afford to struggle in Iowa, because his campaign operation assumed the Granite State was fertile ground. And yet, Bush has slipped to single digits in nearly all recent New Hampshire polling, and his fifth-place showing in the Monmouth poll is evidence of a campaign that's far from where it expected to be at this point.
Indeed, the Monmouth poll asked respondents for their general impression of each of the competitive candidates. In July, Jeb Bush was above water -- 47% favorable, 37% unfavorable. Now, those numbers have largely flipped -- 39% favorable, 45% unfavorable.
If Bush isn't even well liked in the state he saw as a possible firewall, he has a real problem.