Donald Trump is best understood this way: He's not so much a political candidate as he is a cultural phenomenon. His celebrity, his brashness and his over-the-top rhetoric have turned his campaign appearances into happenings — events to which thousands and thousands flock to catch a glimpse of the man himself.

While Trump's rivals are scrambling for a few hundred people in South Carolina, the real estate mogul is drawing "nearly 10,000" people, according to a local paper, in Louisiana — a state that doesn't hold its caucus until March 5. Jenna Johnson, the Post reporter who has been with Trump every step of the way, was even surprised by the size and volume of the crowd.

The Trump phenomenon is still not totally understood by the Republican ruling class. They see a buffoonish figure who says deeply irresponsible things solely because he can and who, if he wins the nomination, could cripple the party for years to come.

Trump's supporters see a successful businessman who can and will say whatever is on his mind — and never apologize to the panicky party establishment or the purveyors of political correctness. For the people who come to these rallies by the thousands, it's not about the specifics of what Trump says; it's the way he says it and that he's willing to say it at all.

Trump's attitude has turned him into a cult hero to his flock — complete with odd homages like a customized Trump pacifier.

I continue to believe that the Trump movement is something we will be studying for years to come — whether or not he winds up winning either the Republican nomination or the presidency. Crowds like the one in Baton Rouge on Thursday night are the rule, not the exception, for Trump in this campaign — and tell us something about how he has somehow transcended being just another political candidate in the eyes of lots and lots of Republicans.

Trump is a phenomenon. And one who might not be able to be stopped by the Republican establishment.