Republican frontrunner Donald J. Trump spent a great deal of time at the GOP debate in South Carolina on Saturday night attacking former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is in fourth place, according to RealClearPolitics.
He also attacked second-place Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). But by focusing on Bush, Trump succeeded in keeping Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) out of the limelight for as long as possible, denying them chances to score points.
An NPR analysis of talking time in the debate showed that Trump spoke the longest, for 15 minutes and 38 seconds. Cruz was second and Bush was third–but Cruz spent a good deal of that time debating Rubio, not Trump.
While analysts seemed to think Trump had been on the defensive much of the evening, Trump was pleased with his performance.
“I really loved it… I thought it was maybe my best debate,” Donald Trump told Bret Baier of Fox News afterwards.
Asked by Baier whether he was “swinging down” by fighting Bush so much, Trump noted that Bush had spent millions on negative ads against him.
And, quietly, he may have provoked exactly the fight he wanted.
Trump independently brought up the issue of eminent domain, for example, which Bush has been using to attack him. Bush responded, predictably.
In such exchanges, Trump gave Bush air time–but kept Cruz and Rubio in the background.