Donald Trump is a bigger frontrunner to be the Republican nominee than you think

By Chris Cillizza February 18 at 12:04 PM

Barring some sort of cataclysm, Donald Trump is going to easily win Saturday's Republican presidential primary in South Carolina. It would be his second straight large victory out of three contests so far in the presidential contest. In the other -- the Iowa caucuses -- Trump got the second most votes of any Republican candidate ever, but he finished second behind the guy who got the most votes in the history of the caucuses: Ted Cruz. Three days after the South Carolina vote, the race will move to Nevada where a poll released on Wednesday showed Trump ahead by almost 30 points. Then comes the March 1 "SEC" primary, when voters in 13 states across the country — including six Southern states — vote. Polling puts Trump first in most, if not all, of those states.

If Trump wins SC, he is virtually certain to have won more than 50% of all delegates allocated in IA/NH/SC—may be as much as 65%.

— Taniel (@Taniel) February 18, 2016

All of which raises a simple but profound question: Why isn't Trump being covered as the overwhelming favorite to be the Republican nominee?

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Substitute any other Republican in the race into Trump's current position. There is a 100 percent chance that that person would be touted as the prohibitive favorite or the odds-on nominee. Imagine Marco Rubio -- he of the third-place finish in Iowa and fifth-place finish in New Hampshire -- with the same poll numbers as Trump in South Carolina, Nevada and beyond. The coronation would be on. Hell, Rubio is now seen as a likely third-place finisher in South Carolina -- behind Trump and Cruz -- and laurels are virtually being thrown at his feet.

Why isn't Trump getting the credit and coverage he deserves? Because, at root, there is still a belief within the party establishment and the ranks of the media that he will somehow implode or voters will "wise up" or "get real" or something. The problem with that theory is that, well, Trump has done lots and lots of things that would a) be described as "gaffes" and b) would have ended or severely compromised other campaigns. And yet, none of it has touched him. In fact, his willingness to say anything -- no matter the underlying facts -- seems to affirm to his supporters just how "independent" from the political system he really is.

Trump has been the front-runner -- in South Carolina and nationally -- for a very long time. And nothing seems to move his numbers.

Here's South Carolina.

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And here's the national picture.

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Now ask yourself: What could Trump possibly do or say that would somehow be considered a large enough mistake to peel away large amounts of support from him? There is some internal polling done for rival candidates in South Carolina that suggests Trump is losing some altitude in the state after his not-good-at-all performance in the debate last Saturday. Okay, maybe. But, losing some altitude in a single state where you are ahead by 20-plus points is not exactly a campaign-ending problem.

The idea that Trump will either derail himself or be derailed given the steadiness of his numbers seems like the most wishful of thinking by establishment Republicans. Ditto the idea -- that I still hear nearly every day in D.C. -- that the establishment will "figure out" a way to stop Trump. Trust me: If they could have stopped Trump, they would have done it a long time ago. They can't.

Wishful thinking is not the same thing as plausible strategy. And, at this point, it appears that wishful thinking is what is keeping Trump from getting the coverage he deserves as the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination. Front-runners can -- and do -- lose on occasion. And it's possible that Trump -- perhaps when/if the race narrows to a one-on-one contest with Rubio -- loses.

But, it is an undeniable fact that Trump has by far the easiest path to the Republican nomination from here on out. Waiting and hoping for him to collapse is, to borrow a Trump-ism, a loser's game.