The Republican primary debates are quickly turning into the Donald Trump debates.
A Vox analysis shows that the field of candidates — both those in the primetime debate and those in the so-called "JV" round — mentioned the real estate mogul five times more between the first and second debates. They talked about him more than about Hillary Clinton — and just as much as Barack Obama — as he continued to rise in the polls.
GOP candidates want to make it clear how terrible Obama and Clinton are
Trump isn't the only subject of discussion. Candidates spent a lot of time criticizing Obama and Clinton. In the first debate, candidates collectively said their names nearly 50 times; in the second, it was nearly 80 times.
This is actually a bit different from the last presidential election cycle. Republicans in 2012 also tried to demonize Obama with their right-leaning base, but not nearly as harshly as they did in the first two debates in this election cycle. Clinton was mentioned a few times in 2012, but she was largely ignored.
Bernie Sanders was largely ignored in both debates.
Also note in the chart above: Besides Trump, the Republican whose name was mentioned most in the two debates was Ronald Reagan. The second debate was held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, which might explain the 40 mentions. But he outpaced all Republicans with nine mentions in the first debate.
The 2012 frontrunners were never targeted. 2016 has been different.
As I mentioned before the last Democratic debate, it’s usually a good thing for a candidate when opponents say his or her name, because it correlates with polls numbers.
But in 2012, the four candidates who stayed in race through the end of the primary were never targeted in the way Trump has been. Mitt Romney, the eventual nominee, only heard his name a maximum of 18 times — and that was when he was pulling away in the polls. Rick Santorum, who had a meteoric rise near the end of the primary season, never heard his name more than six times.
The first Republican debate was much tamer than the second, in that candidates only called out non-Trump opponents four times. But in the second debate, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson, and Rand Paul all heard their names at least seven times.
In 2012, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry all had early blips, with Cain competing with Romney for the most mentions 13 months before the 2012 general election, which is where we're at now. But Cain's time in the limelight lasted just two debates.