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Updated 8:04 PM |

What Went Down In The Second GOP Debate

Filed under 2016 Election

Nate Silver 12:16 AM Where Does Carly Fiorina Go From Here?

It can be dangerous to predict how the polls will move in response to debates. On the one hand, journalists and political pundits don’t have so much in common with the Republican voters who are watching the debates at home. On the other hand, the post-debate narratives and “spin” sometimes matter more than what happened on the debate stage itself.

But for what it’s worth, a lot of media types in my Twitter feed seem to think Carly Fiorina did really well, and my colleagues and I at FiveThirtyEight agree. I asked our team to grade each candidate from A to F on the basis of how much they helped their chances of winning the nomination or otherwise running a “successful” campaign. The grades were sent to me individually so we didn’t have the opportunity to crib off one another (not that we’re immune from other types of groupthink). Twelve people responded, including me.

Fiorina A A+ A-
Rubio B A C
Bush B A- C
Christie B- B+ D
Carson B- B+ D
Cruz C+ B D
Trump C+ B+ D
Kasich C+ B+ D
Paul C+ B C-
Walker C+ B- D
Huckabee C B D

Everyone gave Fiorina an A-, A or A+. No one else was really that close, with Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush averaging a B. Donald Trump averaged a C+ in our straw poll, although with a wide range of responses including one “WTF.”

If Fiorina gets a further boost in the polls, it will be interesting to see where her support comes from. Fiorina doesn’t have traditional credentials for a nominee, having never held elected office before (she lost to the Democrat Barbara Boxer in the California senate race in 2010). But Fiorina’s policy positions are fairly conventional, mirroring those of the Republican establishment, and her ability to claim “outsider” status could be a boon given the mood of the GOP electorate. So check to see how Fiorina does in the polls — but also whether she picks up any endorsements or other signs of support from the Republican establishment.

Leah Libresco 11:38 PM Who Spoke The Most?

Who had the most speaking opportunities?

Donald Trump dominated the debate, and he had the help of the moderators to do it. They asked him more questions than any other candidate (and only one fewer than they asked Huckabee, Kasich, Rubio and Walker combined). Bush was the second-most-frequent speaker, relying on the favor of the moderators and the other candidates’ propensity to attack him (and thus give him the chance to reply). Fiorina pushed her way into the top three with her frequent interruptions.

This analysis excludes the opening statements and the final, lighthearted questions posed to everyone.

Ella Koeze 11:28 PM

Who was attacked the most in the GOP debate?

Leah Libresco 11:22 PM

Here’s what the moderators thought was most important for the candidates to cover. We tallied all the topics that got at least two questions (excluding the silly session at the end).


Trump and Carson both said we give too many vaccines, too close together. The Institute of Medicine took a look at whether the immunization schedule is safe and found that there was no evidence of safety concerns. But it went further, saying “rather than exposing children to harm, following the complete childhood immunization schedule is strongly associated with reducing vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Harry Enten 11:12 PM Reagan Led Carter Through Much Of The 1980 Campaign

Scott Walker just said that Ronald Reagan trailed just before the 1980 election. That’s not true. As this Monkey Cage blog post details, Reagan led consistently over Jimmy Carter in an aggregate of polls from June 1980 through the election.


Ben Casselman 11:10 PM Finally, Someone Talks About The Economy

We’re down to the final minutes of the debate, and finally someone is talking about the economy. Jeb Bush correctly notes that poverty is up under Obama and incomes and workforce participation are down. Whether his policies will reverse those trends is another question. Bush has pledged to deliver 4 percent economic growth, something most experts believe will be difficult at a time when baby boomers are retiring. Still, it’s good to hear someone talking about serious economic problems in this debate — even if it’s likely come long after most people have tuned out.

Huckabee asked: “Why doesn’t this country focus on cures rather than treatment?” Nixon declared a war on cancer in 1971. This year the National Institutes of Health will spend $5.4 billion on cancer research. We still have no cure.

10:57 PM

Trump’s brain, like all of ours, is primed to reach false conclusions.

Yes, Trump should stop saying vaccines cause autism. There is no link between vaccines and autism.

Harry Enten 10:47 PM

Yeah, if I’m Clinton, I’m happy I don’t have to stand on a stage for three hours.

Nate Silver 10:46 PM

If I’m Hillary Clinton, Micah, then I want Donald Trump to be a factor in the Republican race for as long as possible, and I don’t think Trump has had a particularly good night. But we’ll see — it’s not very easy to predict how the polls move in immediate response to a debate. The one thing I feel fairly confident about is that Fiorina is going to get some kind of bounce.

Micah Cohen 10:45 PM

Nate and Harry, If you’re Hillary Clinton watching this debate (though apparently Clinton isn’t watching), are you happy with how it’s going?

Leah Libresco 10:45 PM

We had a brief respite from Trump, but he’s still gotten at least twice as many questions from the moderator (12) as anyone but Bush (nine). Walker and Huckabee bring up the rear with three each.

Harry Enten 10:44 PM

Chris Christie just spoke about his Social Security plan, which includes eliminating benefits for those making more than $200,000 a year. As I noted when Christie first proposed overhauling Social Security, polling indicates that Christie will not benefit electorally from his stance.

David Firestone 10:42 PM

The data on Christie’s claim that marijuana is a gateway drug: 111 million Americans have tried marijuana in their lifetime; 4.6 million people have tried heroin. Marijuana “does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse,” according to the federal Institute of Medicine.

10:42 PM

Ben Casselman 10:36 PM Rand Paul Sounds Social Justice Message On Pot

Ending mass incarceration was once a predominantly liberal issue, but it’s increasingly drawing bipartisan support. Conservatives worry about the high cost of locking up millions; libertarians worry about state overreach; and progressives worry about the impact on minority communities.

One thing that was interesting about Rand Paul’s answer, though, was that he justified his position on explicitly social justice grounds. The data backs him up: The people locked up for drug crimes are disproportionately poor men of color. As my colleague Oliver Roeder has written, however, ending mass incarceration will require far more than releasing nonviolent drug offenders.

Ritchie King 10:34 PM

Marijuana laws by state

Harry Enten 10:33 PM

If you believe the polls, most Republicans haven’t lit up a joint. According to a recent Gallup survey, only 31 percent of Republicans say they’ve done the doobie. Moreover, only 36 percent of Republicans in an April 2015 Fox News poll were in favor of legalizing marijuana.

10:26 PM

Harry Enten 10:22 PM

Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush are going at each other over the Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts. As I pointed out during the first debate, no Republican senator voted against the Roberts nomination, and the vast majority of Republicans nationwide were for it.

Leah Libresco 10:18 PM

There’s an advantage in being attacked. A quarter of candidates’ chances to speak have come when they’re mentioned by opponents and get a right of reply. Trump and Bush have gotten to do this the most. Bush’s opponents have given him half of his chances to speak.

Ritchie King 10:16 PM I'm The Only …


If you’re fed up with Washington and looking for somebody to stand up to career politicians, I’m the only one on this stage that’s done that over and over again.

I am the only candidate on this stage who has never supported amnesty.


I’m the only person on the stage who spent seven years as the United States attorney after Sept. 11.


I am the only person on this stage and one of the few people in this country that led the effort as the chief architect of the last time we balanced the federal budget.


I’m the only one on the stage that has a plan introduced to repeal Obamacare on day one.


I’m the only person up here that fought against going into Iraq.

Harry Enten 10:05 PM

Trump is going after George W. Bush; that’s dangerous if not executed correctly. According to a May 2015 CNN/ORC survey, 89 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of him.

Leah Libresco 10:01 PM

Nearly half of the times Fiorina has spoken, it’s been because she has interrupted others.


Nate Silver 10:00 PM

I think Walker has been better than in the previous debate. The problem is that Rubio and Bush have each been sharper and had more memorable lines than Walker, and they’re the ones who Walker’s competing against most directly for the establishment’s support.

Harry Enten 9:59 PM

It’s September 2015. The Iowa caucus is scheduled for Feb. 1, 2016. Unless Walker is running out of money, it’s not that dire.


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