Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pictured during a debate on CNN in December
Washington (AFP) - American billionaire Donald Trump, the dominant Republican no one can stop talking about heading into the 2016 presidential election, is leaving his rivals far behind in the polls.
The provocative real estate magnate and political neophyte remains at the center of campaign firestorms, roiling the Republican establishment and leading the GOP pack as it gears up for the post-New-Year gallop to Iowa and the first voting in the nominations process on February 1.
Trump's campaign trail bombast -- including extraordinary comments, among them a vulgar attack on Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton that stunned many observers -- appears to have done him little if any harm in the polls as he solidifies the frontrunner status he has maintained since late July.
A new poll released Wednesday showed him with double the support of his nearest competitor.
The national CNN/ORC poll of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters has Trump leading with 39 percent support -- more than twice that of Senator Ted Cruz on 18 percent, a two-point gain since the companies' last poll in November.
Senator Marco Rubio and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson have both slipped slightly and sit at 10 percent, while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie came in fifth at five percent. None of the other eight Republican candidates is above four percent.
The poll, with a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points, was conducted following the latest Republican primary debate, in which Trump and Cruz were seen as performing well.
The latest figures put Trump at 35.1 percent support in the much followed RealClearPolitics.com polling average, his highest mark yet.
Cruz is at 18.1 percent in the average, solidifying his second place position over Rubio.
Trump has issued a series of controversial -- some would say outrageous -- statements since launching his campaign June 16, beginning with his accusation that Mexico was sending "rapists" and other criminals into the United States.
The latest controversies over Trump talk involve his December 7 call to bar Muslims from entering the United States, and verbal attacks Monday on Clinton.
By being losing to Obama in the battled for the 2008 Democratic nomination, Trump said Clinton had been "schlonged" -- a vulgar neologism derived from a Yiddish term for penis.
- 'Inflammatory rhetoric' -
Clinton on Tuesday returned fire.
"I really deplore the tone of his campaign and the inflammatory rhetoric that he is using to divide people," Clinton told the Des Moines Register in an interview.
His crude description of her election loss was "not the first time he's demonstrated a penchant for sexism," she added.
"Trump really is appalling," conservative commentator William Kristol said Wednesday on CNN.
The national trend nevertheless continues to tilt The Donald's way, to the consternation of rivals including Jeb Bush, who lambasted Trump as a "jerk" at the weekend.
Bush, a former Florida governor, was the race's early frontrunner, only to slip into the lower tier.
On Wednesday he told Fox News that Trump's hostile language was "going to make it harder for the party's nominee, whoever that's going to be, to win. We want to win the election."
With Trump surging, Republican candidates have begun to bristle in the face of a barrage of media questions about the unlikely frontrunner.
"I am not going to respond to everything that comes out of Donald Trump's mouth," Christie seethed to CNN Tuesday.
Republican voters are siding with Trump on some key issues, however.
Four out of five Democrats oppose his proposed Muslim ban, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday, while 41 percent of Republicans back it.
Seventy-four percent of Democrats said they would accept Syrian refugees in the US, while 82 percent of Republicans would not, the poll showed.