This GOP Debate Candidate Just Beat Donald Trump In A Way That No Other Republican Candidate Has

The top seven contenders for the Republican presidential nomination debated for the sixth time Thursday night in North Charleston, South Carolina. Going into the event, Donald Trump maintained his wide lead with 33 percent of support from Republican primary voters, followed by Ted Cruz at 20 percent, according to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Though Trump was still 13 points ahead of the Texas senator, Cruz inched closer to the GOP front-runner than any candidate has in recent weeks, and the number of times Cruz was mentioned during the GOP debate on Twitter proves that he's seen as a viable nominee now.

During the debate, Trump's name came up nearly 170,000 times on Twitter, while Cruz was mentioned almost 153,000 times, according to Twitter data sent to Bustle by social analytics firm Brandwatch. That alone shows that voters were talking about Cruz nearly as much as Trump, who's captivated the media's and America's attention since the 2016 race began. What's more noteworthy though, is that halfway through the debate, around 10:15 p.m., Cruz had more mentions than Trump — the first time any other Republican candidate has garnered the most Twitter mentions during a presidential forum. Trump pulled through with more in the end, but Cruz put up a good fight.

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Cruz has been a top GOP candidate for some time, but Trump's huge lead seemed unbreakable, especially with so many opponents battling for recognition. However, many political analysts think Cruz is the most likely to beat Trump, and from the amount of Twitter chatter he inspired, it seems more possible than ever. Marco Rubio, polling in third, also came in third on Twitter, with only 75,000 mentions, and John Kasich came in last with a meager 23,000 mentions. The Texas senator obviously reached voters on Thursday, which could help give his campaign the boost it desperately needs to overtake Trump in the primaries.

The remaining Republicans have clearly started to view Cruz as a threat, considering how often he was attacked Thursday night. Trump and Rubio continuously criticized Cruz on everything from immigration to defense spending, and Rubio claimed he's flip-flopped on multiple issues. On the subject of immigration, Rubio said:

Ted Cruz, you used to say you supported doubling the number of green cards, now you say that you're against it. You used to support a 500 percent increase in the number of guest workers, now you say that you're against it. You used to support legalizing people that were here illegally, now you say you're against it. You used to say that you were in favor of birthright citizenship, now you say that you are against it.

Candidates don't put that much time and energy into tearing apart a rival they don't think has a chance. Rubio is currently placing behind Cruz, so he's trying to claw his way up, but even Trump tore into him for being born in Canada. Trump said experts have raised "a serious question" about whether or not Cruz is eligible to be president, although he's a U.S. citizen. Trump said: "There are other attorneys that feel, and very, very fine constitutional attorneys, that feel that because he was not born on the land, he cannot run for office."

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The second-place spot has treated Cruz pretty well so far, but only time will tell if he can actually beat Trump in the primaries. He does have people talking, and that's the first step.