Billionaire malcontent Donald Trump may be in danger of losing his front-runner status to Dr. Ben Carson in national polling, but the real estate mogul's debate chops are apparently as strong as ever — at least, according to the Republicans who watch him.
According to a survey conducted for Mic by Google Consumer Surveys following Tuesday night's Republican presidential primary debate in Milwaukee, Trump succeeded in winning the affection and attention of an electorate that seemed on the verge of being over his shtick. A plurality of registered Republicans, 28%, declared that Trump was the winner of the debate, trailed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who at 22% came in second to match his performance two weeks ago in Boulder, Colorado:
Some candidates achieved the mission of maintaining relevancy ahead of the long stretch before the next debate. Carson and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz rounded out the top four with performances seen as respectable — if not necessarily engaging — by Republicans who tuned in. For one-time front-runner Jeb Bush, however, his anemic campaign's reboot seems to have had little impact on viewer perceptions, with the former Florida governor in second-to-last place among Republicans who watched the debate.
The survey, conducted as the debate wrapped up, included respondents who identified as registered Republicans and said they watched all or some of the Fox Business Network-moderated debate.
Big improvement: As the candidates' last occasion for the next 35 days to impress potential caucus-goers (and potential donors), the Milwaukee debate provided a crucial opportunity for the candidates to cement themselves in the minds of voters, and to change the minds of capricious Republican primary voters still straddling the fence. To that end, Rubio and Carson both excelled.
After the debate's conclusion, 43% of Republicans who watched said that they viewed Rubio more favorably than they had before the debate, and 37% said the same of Carson, who ably parried questions regarding inconsistencies in his personal narrative that have dogged his campaign over the past week. Only 1 in 5 voters said that they viewed either of them less favorably than before.
But Rubio and Carson weren't the only winners of the "most improved" superlative on Tuesday night: Republican viewers responded to the less aggressive moderation style and more stump-speech-friendly atmosphere in Milwaukee with high marks, deeming the debate "substantive," "informative," "interesting" and "good" when asked to describe the debate in one word:
State of the race: With little immediate consensus on Milwaukee's winners and losers beyond positive marks for Trump, Rubio and Carson, and a four-week dormancy leading into the holiday season, there's little indication that the status quo of the wide Republican field was disrupted by Tuesday night's debate in any meaningful way. The Google Consumer Survey numbers for the debate's winners and losers closely mirror the overall state of the race, particularly Bush's fall from grace and the indefatigable nature of Trump's support. For the next few months, at least, the Republican presidential primary remains relatively open.