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When Trump Attacks!

Donald Trump knows how to command attention, and one way he does that is by attacking … everyone. If you’re another candidate, in the media or just walking this earth, there’s a good chance you’ll be hit by some Trumpian fury at some point. How does Trump choose his targets? Let’s turn to Twitter, where Trump is very active. And let’s limit ourselves to the GOP field: who Trump attacks — and who attacks Trump.



Since he officially entered the race in mid-June, Trump (from @realDonaldTrump) has mostly attacked top contenders, such as Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. In other words, Trump, as is his wont, operates in the classy, luxurious top tier.

Lesser candidates are — mostly — beneath his notice.1

But the reverse isn’t true. His main competitors (Bush, Walker, John Kasich and Marco Rubio) have been pretty hesitant to ding Trump (at least on Twitter).

Long-shot candidates, such as Lindsey Graham and George Pataki, however, have been eager to go after The Donald. They have a lot to gain (attention) and almost nothing to lose. For example:

Finally, there has been mutual Twitter friendliness between Trump, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. That shouldn’t be too surprising as Carson and Cruz are going after the same types of voters as Trump.

Dhrumil Mehta contributed research for this article.


  1. Deciding which tweets qualify as attacks obviously involved some judgment calls. For example, I didn’t count as attacks tweets by Trump that highlighted polls showing him in the lead. But when Trump cc’d his opponents on such a tweet — that I counted. Also, in this study, retweets count as endorsements. Still, if you did this exercise yourself, you might end up with slightly different numbers.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

Allison McCann is a former visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.