The historical models of Norpoth and Lichtman suggest that this year the incumbent party would lose control of the White House, meaning the true battle was actually the Republican primaries.
That's not all there is to winning the White House, though, as both models penalize a candidate who came out of an evenly contested primary and therefore has a shaky hold on their own party's members.
If Trump had not been in the GOP race, Jeb would have been neck and neck with at least Cruz and probably also Rubio. Given the fracturing of the Republican party since the Bush vs. Buchanan primary of 1992, there's no reason to think that 2016 would have produced a more cohesive coalition than 2012 or 2008. The general election would have been theirs to lose -- and they would have lost it.
Thankfully Trump showed up at the right time, dominated the primaries (20 points above 2nd place), and has united just about all of the Republican coalition, minus a handful of useless neo-cons who might only affect the race in Virginia.
At this point, we have all the red states lined up to vote red again, and enough crossover appeal to win the swing states of Ohio and Florida, and blue states like Iowa and Michigan.
We have constant rallies, around $100 million to spend, Trump's social media presence of 20 million followers, signs hats and shirts galore, tens of millions of early votes already cast, and tens of millions more ready to vote on Election Day itself. The RNC is nominally, and even somewhat actually supporting him.
Remember how iffy most people thought the primary campaign was?
He spent very little money, operated with a barebones staff, a small hardcore fan base, and no proof that anyone would cast a single vote for him at the polling stations. The RNC was hostile throughout.
There was months and months of speculation about whether anyone would turn out for him, or whether his high poll numbers were just people expressing a preference that they would not act on. After a close 2nd-place finish in Iowa, everyone was gloating about how he was finished. It would not be the first time.
As tiresome as it was to hear Crooked Hillary nag and blather on in three debates, do you remember how insufferable it was to sit through the other candidates at the Republican debates? So many candidates, so many debates... ay ay ay, these people. Trump was so undisciplined, and would never recover from talking about the size of his hands, remember?
Then there was going to be a contested Convention, a delegate revolt, rival candidates bolting the party, etc. That was a big obstacle -- no nomination, no major-party run -- and he does not face a similar threat in the Electoral College if he legitimately wins enough states to get, say, 300 EC votes. There are not going to be dozens of faithless electors.
And Lord knows the media is still biased, but remember back when even Fox News was 24/7 rabid anti-Trump BS?
When you look back at how rigged the system was during the primaries, it's all the more miraculous that we got through it. It'll make the general election look, like, a baby.
That's not to say that the Establishment might not try to steal an election here or there, but it's easier to challenge and defeat that now that Trump is a major-party candidate, rather than one of many lowly candidates for nomination.
The real time to be pulling your hair out was during the primaries -- and we got through that relatively unscathed. The paranoids said the Establishment, with trillions of dollars at stake, would never allow Trump to rise in the polls (they would be cooked), never give Trump a win in any state (they'd heist it), never allow the Convention to proceed smoothly and fairly, and certainly never allow Trump to actually receive the nomination.
But the Establishment did ultimately relent on all of those nevers, and here we are, poised to defeat another series of nevers -- never allowed to lead any national poll, never allowed to win a swing or blue state, never be declared the winner, never be chosen by the Electoral College, and never be inaugurated.
A political climate that allows Trump to receive the nomination is not hell-bent on nipping the populist problem in the bud. They've let it go this far because they know we'll burn down the whole system if they try to steal our election in broad daylight.
The ideologues may want to crush us at any costs, but those with actual wealth and power do not want to go extinct overnight. They'd rather concede something, even a big something, if it means they continue to profit and control things, just at a lower (perhaps much lower) level than before.
Make some profit and stay alive, or double-down on upward wealth transfer and provoke the mob into burning it all down? So far, signs point to basic sanity and self-preservation among those with true wealth and power.
The ideologues who yammer impotently about immediately impeaching President Trump, and the like, will get their plug pulled by their paymasters for injecting all that volatility back into the system, when they prefer things to operate more smoothly.
Knock on wood for a relatively peaceful transition of power to the populist-nationalist movement.