It's time to make peace with what might be an inevitability at this point: Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee.
When thousands of people began showing up at Trump's rallies early in the summer of 2015, pundits likened the response to looking at a car crash — people were rubbernecking out of morbid curiosity, but it wouldn't be long before the novelty wore off and they turned to more serious candidates.
As the long days of summer marched on and the real estate mogul took a commanding lead in the polls, the same pundits preached patience. Sure, Trump might rule the early polls, but he's 2016's version of Herman Cain, the pizza executive who enjoyed a fleeting moment of success before he crashed and bowed out of the race.
Fast forward to August and September, and the hand-wringing started. The usual Fox News roundtable of white guys — Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Britt Hume, and Bret Baier — tried condescension. We may have misjudged the staying power of this novelty campaign, they said, but Republican voters are too smart to back an abrasive loudmouth with no government experience.
By the end of the year, the establishment's cheerleaders were beginning to sweat. This time, it sounded like they were trying to reassure themselves, saying Trump lacked the kind of organized, grassroots campaign team necessary to win primary states. He might talk a big game and poll well, but he won't deliver votes when push comes to shove.
Just to make it abundantly clear that the plebs were supposed to pick a Bush or a Rubio, the National Review dedicated an entire issue to whining about Trump on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.
And now here we are: Trump's huge victory in New Hampshire is in the rearview mirror, a win in South Carolina seems very likely, and the latest polls show him pulling further away from the pack with almost 50 percent of Republicans backing him.
It's time to state the obvious: It's looking increasingly likely that Trump will be the GOP nominee.
Anything can happen, but none of Trump's rivals have gained traction. Jeb Bush continues to languish near the bottom of the polls, and he's not helped by stories about how he spent $2,800 per vote in his losing Iowa effort, and that he begged voters to cheer for him at a recent campaign stop.
Rubio, hailed as a solid alternative with broad appeal, was on a self-destruct course before New Jersey Governor Chris Christie nudged him along with a humiliating exchange at the last GOP debate. You could almost hear Rubio's campaign deflating as Christie expertly turned the crowd on Rubio, proving the Florida senator is adept at repeating talking points but slow-witted when pressured by attacks he can't anticipate.
That leaves Ted Cruz, a man who cooks bacon by wrapping it over the barrel of an assault rifle and still thinks this election is a referendum on gay marriage.
There's still time for a darkhorse candidate like John Kasich to surge, or for Jeb Bush to spend the equivalent of a medium-sized nation's GDP on purchasing votes and narrowing the gap. Trump could also implode, Howard Dean-style, despite seeming bulletproof and seemingly impervious to conventional political pitfalls.
But look across the aisle, and you'll see the "inevitable" nominee Hillary Clinton struggling mightily against a 74-year-old, gruff-spoken socialist.
It's not hard to see the writing on the wall. Voters seem determined to reject the establishment emphatically in 2016, and a Trump versus Sanders general election no longer looks like a pipe dream.