The conventional wisdom was that almost any of the other 16 Republican presidential candidates could have run better than Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton's team certainly believed it.
Now that Trump is president-elect, not only was his weakness clearly exaggerated. With the benefit of hindsight, Trump may have been the only Republican contender who could have broken Clinton's blue wall and pulled off the upset.
Consider Trump's unlikely path to a majority in the Electoral College. Trump held on to every state Mitt Romney won in 2012 and managed to flip perennial battleground Florida into the Republican column. But the real difference-maker was Trump's strong performance in the industrial Midwest, giving him Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa and likely Michigan.
Only two states award electoral votes by congressional district. Trump swept Nebraska's electoral votes and picked up an extra one in Maine's second congressional district. Trump maxed out on Republican-leaning electoral votes.
"In the Sunbelt, the Republican senators pulled Trump across the finish line," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "In the Rush Belt, he helped pull some of them across the finish line."
Absent Trump's Rust Belt appeal, O'Connell argued that the party's next best bet in the Electoral College might have been Rubio and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who won re-election in a landslide.