Latest GOP Debate — Rubio Rising

fox news focus group marco rubio

It would appear that there are a great many outlets who really, REALLY, want Donald Trump to have succeeded in “winning” last night’s GOP debate without having actually been there.

Vox Vox-splained it this way:

My colleagues are saying Donald Trump won the debate, because in his absence the rest of the Republican candidates cut each other down. But Trump won the debate in another way: His absence from the debate appears to have hurt viewership, as he predicted.

Early numbers suggest that between 11 million and 13 million viewers watched the Fox News debate, which is about half of the audience Trump drew to the first Fox News debate in August, when the event drew a record-breaking 23 million viewers. (We’ll have more precise numbers later in the day.)

(My suggestion is to keep an eye out for those more precise numbers.)

And while CNN Money has to begrudgingly admit that Fox had better ratings than the rival cable stations showing Trump’s event, that means nothing:

So Thursday’s debate was bigger — but not by much. The other five GOP debates of the cycle have had household ratings ranging from 8.9 to 15.9.

That’s why Trump can claim victory. (His campaign had no immediate comment about the ratings on Friday.)

Actual viewership numbers will be available later in the day on Friday. Fox News likely had 11 million to 13 million viewers for the debate.

But one thing is ultimately unknowable: How many more viewers would have watched if Trump had been center stage?

“That’s why Trump can claim victory.” Even though he can’t. Not really. (My suggestion is to look out for those actual viewership numbers later today.)

So what did happen last night? Simply put: Chris Christie finally made some sense, Cruz got his hat handed to him by a moderator, and Marco Rubio began his ascendency. Frank Luntz’ focus group had a lot to say about the latter (you can decide for yourself how unbiased these focus groups tend to be, and Media Matters can help you with your skepticism):

“Haven’t you already proven that you cannot be trusted on this issue?” Kelly asked Rubio.

Rubio said matter-of-factly that he would not embrace a hard-line approach like deporting everyone who immigrated into the US illegally. However, he also said he would work through Congress and not implement major immigration-policy changes through executive action like President Barack Obama.

“Absolutely. We’re not going to round up and deport 12 million people. But we’re not going to go around handing out citizenship cards, either. There will be a process. We will see what the American people are willing to support. But it will not be unconstitutional executive orders,” Rubio said as part of Luntz’s highlight reel.

The focus group reacted by applauding. Several participants told Luntz they became Rubio supporters after watching the debate. They used words like “organized,” “confident,” “presidential,” and “electable” to describe him, when asked to use a single word or phrase.

And so the field continues to oscillate and whittle down and ebb and flow. And, despite Democrats line that this indicates a fracturing in the GOP, it looks more like what this process is supposed to look like: candidates making their cases and the people responding. One thing is for certain (with apologies to CNN Money and Vox), and I’ll let Bill Kristol break the news:

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