There was a lot to amuse when Donald Trump launched his presidential bid. He arrived by slow-moving escalator. His staff allegedly paid people to attend. He spoke without notes and, after what seemed liked a very long time, he summed up with: "In short, we are going to do a lot of things very quickly".
His campaign stops attracted a lot of people. In California in September, I spoke to many who had come to see the man they only knew from the US reality show The Apprentice. Others thought they would vote for someone else, but they wanted to hear what he had to say.
He was the butt of jokes by late-night comedians on US television. Other candidates, with perhaps the exception of Jeb Bush, refused to attack him, worried about drawing his wrath and hoping to secure his support when he dropped out.
The Republican Party establishment thought his campaign would implode. Especially after he insulted Mexicans, war veterans, the disabled, women and Muslims. His grand vision seemed short of detail, and that was exposed in the debates. Yet Trump kept getting stronger. His poll numbers haven't dipped through all the controversies.
Donald Trump has tapped into a visceral anger in America. People are tired of being taken for granted, of being promised change and never seeing it, of politicians who are so wrapped up in a partisan system and decide policy on what is best for the party, not the people.
And in a rough, unpolished, tough guy way, he spoke to that. And he never apologised, never backed down.
The Republican establishment took some pleasure when Trump came second in Iowa. But Ted Cruz had been organising there for more than a year, had spent heavily on research to turn out the vote, and it worked.
In New Hampshire, Trump was back on top. With Ted Cruz regarded as another dangerous outsider, the establishment needed a candidate to challenge Trump. Jeb Bush was not doing well enough, John Kasich did not have the organisation, so Marco Rubio seemed most likely. But he stumbled in the northeast.
He recovered in South Carolina, forcing Bush out of the race. And in the days since has picked up money and endorsements. He is now the chosen one, the anti-Trump candidate.
Yet the electoral maths do not stack up for the others.
Trump is getting stronger with each passing contest. A Republican needs 1,237 delegates to secure the nomination. Trump currently has 79. Cruz has 15, Rubio 14. Each primary and caucus allocates delegates.
Until now it's been done by proportional representation. There are winner-takes-all states coming up and Trump leads in most of them.
Cruz could drop out. Many in the Republican establishment would like that. It would essentially make it a two-horse race. He won't. At least not until his home state of Texas votes. The first-term senator had a big lead there. But Trump is closing fast.
Even if Rubio emerged as the sole candidate to challenge, there's no place at the moment where he can obviously win. Not even the senator's home state of Florida is a given. He is behind Trump in the polls. And he cannot keep claiming second places as significant victories.
Twenty-four states hold their nominating contests between now and the middle of March. Trump cannot win the nomination by then - but he could build up such a lead that it would be an almost impossible task to catch him.
And the longer the field remains divided, Trump's chances just look better and better.
Source: Al Jazeera