As more Republican voters and politicians become used to the idea having Donald Trump as their presidential candidate in 2016, support for the billionaire has begun to coalesce. While some members of the tea party, as well as some establishment Republicans, continue to hold out the hope for a third-party candidate, much of the establishment has already bent the knee.
As such, Trump's poll numbers have started to go up and have finally surpassed the 40 percent support mark among Republicans in recent weeks. In national polls, he is inching closer to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and has cut into her lead sizably; she is only leading by 6 points in current polling averages, far lower than the 17-point lead she started out with against Trump in summer 2015.
Naturally, this development has begged the question: Could Trump actually win the presidential race for the Republicans? As Andrew Prokop notes, there is a precedent for small leads, such as the one Clinton currently holds over Trump, to vanish later on in the campaign. This was the case with Jimmy Carter in 1980, Michael Dukakis in 1988, and George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Moreover, Clinton is currently in a tight polling race in key general election states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. If Trump wins all the same states as Mitt Romney did in 2012, and adds those three, he would win the presidency.
But Clinton is still the most likely candidate to win the presidency, just as she was roughly a year ago.
Despite the current momentum of Trump's campaign, he has not yet had to face a unified Democratic Party over the course of this election cycle. As soon as the Democratic convention happens this summer and Clinton is -- most likely -- chosen as the party's nominee, that dynamic changes.
One of Trump's strategies in recent weeks is to repeat Bernie Sanders' criticisms of Clinton as if to amplify Sanders' own voice, in a cynical attempt to appeal to Sanders' supporters. But Sanders has repeatedly stated he will eventually support Clinton, and there is no reason to think that he will not turn his sights against Trump during the general election.
And the current lack of unity within the Democratic Party has only become a topic in recent weeks because Trump essentially conducted a hostile takeover of the Republicans, papering over the gaping divisions within the party, which Trump's candidacy has only accentuated. If Clinton were to face Trump based on primary results alone she would win -- around 11 million people have voted for Trump, while 12.5 million have voted for Clinton.
Undecided voters -- who currently make up roughly 15 percent of the entire voting population during this election season -- will be key to providing Trump or Clinton with a victory. But Trump, who is still behind, has a greater need to convince this group.
While Clinton remains a deeply polarizing and somewhat unpopular figure among the general electorate, her numbers are still better than Trump's. As of May 9, Clinton had a favorability rating of 41.5 percent and an unfavorability rating of 54.6 percent, while Trump's figures were 36.8 percent and 58.2 percent, respectively.
The Democrats have every right to be happy about Trump being the eventual nominee, but this does not mean they should not take his candidacy seriously or should not try to counter him. But he is a variable and volatile candidate prone to unpredictable actions, while Clinton can point to herself as a paragon of stability compared to her opponent.
In any case, these figures will inevitably start to shift once both candidates are in full campaign mode for the general election, and especially during the debates.