Ask most political observers who won Wednesday night's Republican debate, broadcast by CNN from the Ronald Reagan presidential library in California, and they'll almost certainly say it's the newcomer to the stage, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Ask the data and you get a different answer: It's still Donald Trump's party.
Despite a somewhat lackluster performance, including long bouts of silence from the famously boisterous Trump, the current front-runner once again dominated the debate proceedings by many metrics, according to an analysis of CNN rush transcripts conducted by Bloomberg Politics in partnership with Adam Tiouririne (@Tiouririne) of Logos Consulting Group. He advises senior business executives on high-stakes communication grounded in his research about how leaders perform at their most important—and most widely broadcast—moments.
Here's the breakdown.
Is it still all about Trump?
The billionaire not only spoke more than any other candidate on stage, he was also asked the most questions by the moderators and mentioned twice as often by name as the next most popular presidential hopeful, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
War of words
When it came to verbal sparring, Fiorina mastered the skillful interruption, successfully interjecting five times compared to less than three times on average for the other 10 candidates. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee spoke less than half as much Trump, with Walker asked just three direct questions to Trump's 14.
A particularly interesting insight can be gleaned from a Flesch-Kincaid analysis of each candidate's words. It shows Trump spoke at just a fifth-grade level, characterized by short sentences and simple words, according to Tiouririne. Cruz, he of the Tea Party appeal and Harvard Law degree, clocked in at a more sophisticated 10th-grade reading level equivalent. The rest of the field can be found clustered around the seventh-grade level, roughly the same as some President George W. Bush speeches and even several by President Barack Obama.
The narcissism index
One indicator where Fiorina shone was in her relative humility, using the words I, me, my, and mine less often, on average, than any of her rivals. No surprise, perhaps, that Trump led the pack in the self-referential stakes.
The social scene
Where Fiorina's debate “win” came through more clearly was in the reaction of online prediction markets Privit and PredictWise, which bid up the odds of her winning the Republican nomination by 6 percentage points and 4 percentage points, respectively, compared to earlier in the day on Wednesday—the most of any candidate. This now makes her the third most likely nominee on Pivit and tied for fourth most likely on PredictWise.
Fiorina's performance on social media was also impressive, topping Google's search rankings eight times during the debate. (Trump ranked first 11 times and Bush only once.) On Twitter, hers was the third most-tweeted handle of any of the candidates.
The verbal Brawl-o-Meter
This debate was billed by CNN as one where the moderators would try their utmost to pit candidates against one another. How successful were they? By our account, they managed to set up at least 11 properly combative face-offs (eight of which involved The Donald).
1. Trump vs. Paul: Kicked off when, without any prompting, Trump said, “Rand Paul shouldn't even be on this stage. He's number 11, he's got 1 percent in the polls.” Paul replied, “I think really there's a sophomoric quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried. I'm very concerned about him—having him in charge of the nuclear weapons, because I think his response, his—his visceral response to attack people on their appearance—short, tall, fat, ugly—my goodness, that happened in junior high.” Trump's quick rejoinder: “I never attacked him on his look, and believe me, there's plenty of subject matter right there.”
2. Walker vs. Trump: Kicked off when Walker said, “Mr. Trump, we don't need an apprentice in the White House ... we have one right now,” to which Trump shot back, “In Wisconsin, you're losing $2.2 billion right now.” (Fact check here.)
3. Bush vs. Trump: Kicked off when Bush offhandedly mentioned that “the one guy that had some special interests that I know of that tried to get me to change my views on something—that was generous and gave me money—was Donald Trump. He wanted casino gambling in Florida.” Trump denied the claim, which turns out to be true.
4. Trump vs. Bush: Kicked off when Trump reiterated his belief that Bush's women's health comment “will haunt him.” Bush fired back that “women's income grew three times faster than the national average when I was governor” and that “we increased child support.” Trump stood firm: “I hear it myself. Why did you say it?”
5. Bush vs. Trump: Kicked off when Bush accused Trump of “completely inappropriate” behavior when he remarked that Bush likely had a “soft spot for people from Mexico” because his wife, Columba, was born there. Trump played nice, saying, “I hear your wife is a lovely woman,” but when pressed to apologize, he refused. “No, I won't do that, because I've said nothing wrong.”
6. Trump vs. Fiorina: Kicked off when Trump attacked her career at the helm of HP and said, “She can’t run any of my companies. That I can tell you.” Fiorina shot back: “Honestly, Mr. Trump, I find it quite rich that you would talk about this … you ran up mountains of debt, as well as losses, using other people’s money, and you were forced to file for bankruptcy not once, not twice, four times, a record four times.”
7. Christie vs. Kasich vs. Fiorina: Kicked off when Christie quipped that he was “as entertained as anyone by this personal back-and-forth about the history of Donald and Carly’s career” and was shortly thereafter interrupted by Kasich. “I’m not done yet,” Christie said. Fiorina then defended herself against Christie, saying that “a track record of leadership is not a game,” after which Christie had had enough: “Stop—and stop playing—and Carly—Carly, listen. You can interrupt everybody else on this stage, you're not going to interrupt me, OK?”
8. Rubio vs. Trump: Kicked off when Rubio challenged the moderators to “ask [Trump] questions in detail about the foreign policy issues our president will confront, because you had better be able to lead our country on the first day.” In counterattack, Trump reminded viewers that “I am not sitting in the United States Senate with, by the way, the worst voting record there is today.”
9. Bush vs. Trump: Kicked off when Bush said that “when Donald Trump talks about judgment, what was his position on who would've been the best negotiator to deal with Iran? It wasn't a Republican; it was Hillary Clinton.” Trump’s comeback was squarely aimed at Bush’s older brother: “Your brother—and your brother's administration gave us Barack Obama, because it was such a disaster, those last three months, that Abraham Lincoln couldn't have been elected.”
10. Paul vs. Bush: Kicked off after Bush admitted to having smoked marijuana 40 years earlier, to which Paul retorted that Bush had “campaigned against medical marijuana” in Florida. Bush replied that “no, you’re wrong—you’re wrong about this.”
11. Paul vs. Christie: Kicked off when Christie accused Paul of minimizing the impact of drugs, to which Paul replied: “If they're going to say we are going to enforce the federal law against what the state law is, they aren't really believing in the Tenth Amendment. Governor Christie would go into Colorado, and if you're breaking any federal law on marijuana, even though the state law allows it, he would put you in jail. If a young mother is trying to give her child cannabis oil for medical marijuana for seizure treatment, he would put her in jail, if it violates federal law.”
The Democrat attack index
With a field as large as this one and political oxygen growing scarcer amid Trump and Ben Carson's impressive poll numbers, it's no surprise that last night was characterized by intra-party bickering. But are any of the candidates looking beyond the primaries to when they'll have to face off against the Democratic nominee? When it comes to Hillary Clinton, Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Fiorina went after her with the greatest gusto.
What did they even talk about?
Taxation and jobs were popular topics, as was immigration. The Islamic State and even marijuana had their moments, with candidates mentioning each around 20 times throughout the debate. Planned Parenthood was mentioned nearly twice as often as Obamacare.
When it came to foreign policy, the Iran nuclear agreement was top of the agenda—mentioned 40 times total, 10 by Cruz alone—followed by the Syria crisis and the ongoing advance of the Islamic State in Iraq. North Korea ranked lower than Russia or China.