Why is Donald Trump still leading the Republican field? How can someone so clearly unqualified survive so long?
That is the chief question dominating politics two months before the Iowa caucuses, and two numbers provide much of the answer.
The first number is 11. In a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, only 11 percent of Republican voters cited experience as their main consideration in picking a nominee. If anything, experience seems to count against a candidate in the eyes of many GOP partisans.
One-third of Republicans say that Jeb Bush, the two-term governor of Florida, has the best resume of any candidate, yet only 6 percent favor his nomination. That's his lowest rating since the campaign began, and 26 points behind Trump, who has never held public office.
The second critical number is 19. In a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, that's the percentage of Americans who say "they can trust the government always or most of the time." This rating is "among the lowest levels in the past half-century," reports Pew.
The two numbers are obviously connected. Voters are so disillusioned with government that they devalue experience and desire an outsider like Trump. That yearning is particularly strong among Republicans, with 52 percent saying they want a candidate who would "bring needed change to Washington."
In fact, the terrorist attacks in Paris have only strengthened Trump's position. Today, 28 percent of all Americans rate the terrorist threat as the major issue in next year's election. And those voters trust Trump over Hillary Clinton by almost 2 to 1 to handle that challenge.
As former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told The Wall Street Journal: "I don't think these developments (terror attacks) hurt Trump in any way because his brashness will be equated with toughness. And for some voters that will be all they hear, or all they want to hear."
That's "all they hear" because he can broadcast his message -- bristling with hateful appeals to racial prejudice -- on social media and talk radio platforms unquestioned by mainstream journalists.
But will Trump's lead last? Can he actually win the nomination and even the presidency? We firmly believe the answer is no.
As the primaries get closer, and voters get more serious, the importance of experience should loom larger. Sen. Lindsey Graham predicted in The Wall Street Journal that "the weight" of the Paris attacks will eventually "fall heavily" on amateurs like Trump and neurosurgeon Ben Carson. "Generalities aren't going to cut it anymore," he said.
A second trend undermining Trump could be the rise of alternative candidates. Sen. Ted Cruz has surged to second place in the latest Iowa poll. The New York Times reports that Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has gained "new life" in New Hampshire by stressing his post-9/11 role. A Washington Post handicapper still predicts Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida will win the nomination.
A third factor is the inherent contradiction facing Republican voters. While more than half say shaking up Washington is their main goal, only 4 percent say "electability" matters to them. But if you cannot win an election, you cannot change anything. At what point do Trump's huge political liabilities start undermining his support with voters who desperately want to stop Hillary Clinton?
Then there's the argument that current polls vastly overestimate Trump's strength. GOP pollster Bill McInturff points out that only about 16 percent of Americans are Republican primary voters. So, the Journal notes, "if a candidate is winning 25 percent of that audience, as Mr. Trump is roughly doing now, that adds up to just 4 percent of Americans."
Statistician Nate Silver, in his FiveThirtyEight blog, uses a slightly different measure. Trump supporters amount to "something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked."
More significantly, Silver mines exit poll data from past elections and discovers that most primary voters decide very late, so only about 20 percent are "locked in" to their choices already. An accurate poll in Iowa, therefore, should list 80 percent as still undecided. Trump's chances, he concludes, are "higher than zero but considerably less than 20 percent."
We would add a final factor: the good sense of the American people. Eventually, we believe they will see Trump for what he really is: a cynical demagogue deliberately spreading flagrantly false and deeply dangerous ideas. But that has not happened yet.