The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Yes, Donald Trump could absolutely be the Republican nominee in 2016

Donald Trump takes a question during a news conference before a campaign rally Wednesday in Worcester, Mass. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

It has become damn close to religion in Washington to assume that Donald Trump will, at some point not too far from now, flame out of the presidential race -- that he will start losing altitude in polls, get sick of the whole thing and return to the safe sinecure of Trump Inc.

The problem with that conceit is this: It's wrong. Matt Dowd, a top adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004, nailed that fact in a tweet this morning.

There is simply no evidence -- statistical or anecdotal -- that Trump's appeal is wearing off in any meaningful way.

Let's start on the statistical end. Here are the polling averages for the top four candidates plus Jeb(!) Bush since July, according to Real Clear Politics.

As you can see, once Trump's support shot up in August, he has stayed in the mid-20s for the past three months or so.  Yes, for a very brief moment in late October, Ben Carson rose up and passed Trump in national polling. But, Carson's fade of late looks real.

For all of the talk of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, neither senator has yet consistently garnered even half the support Trump has been winning steadily since August. And, as for Jeb(!), well, his trend line since July is the opposite of Trump's -- down and then down some more.

And remember when you look at the chart above that the months that cover Trump's rise and sustained front-running have not exactly been smooth sailing for him. They have been pockmarked, again and again, by Trump's willingness to say and do incredibly controversial things. None of it has done him in -- or even close. Given that, it's hard to imagine Trump's support all of a sudden disappearing based on something he says or does.

Now for the anecdotal evidence that Trump is here to stay and will be a major factor in the race going forward. Take a look at this shot captured by WaPo's Jenna Johnson at Trump's rally in Massachusetts on Wednesday night.

What do you see? People. Everywhere.  Trump regularly draws thousands of people wherever he goes. While crowd size is an imperfect predictor of political success, it is a good indicator of the sort of organic passion and commitment a candidate is able to generate. People who take time out of their day (or night) to attend a political rally are the most motivated of supporters -- and the sort of supporters every campaign covets.

Sure, some of the people who come to Trump rallies are only there to see the celebrity and bask in the spectacle. But, we know now -- see the chart above -- that Trump's rallies are not just filled with gawkers. He engenders genuine loyalty -- and lots of it.

It's time to accept this reality: Donald Trump is and will continue to be a major player in the GOP nomination fight and, yes, could even wind up as the Republican standard-bearer next fall.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says if he becomes president, Syrian refugees are going back and that he would "bomb the hell out of ISIS." Rough Cut (no reporter narration). (Video: Reuters)