On social media, Donald Trump cast a long shadow over the Republican debate

Donald Trump may not have been physically present at the Fox News Republican debate Thursday night, but he still remained the most-searched 2016 GOP candidate for nearly the entire two hours.

A graph of search interest released by Google shows that the businessman was the candidate most consistently at the top of voters' minds. For one brief moment, at 10:30 p.m. ET, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio surpassed him - but soon succumbed to Trump's Google domination for the remainder of the debate.

Though Trump qualified for the main debate stage, he later refused his invitation after airing complaints about the network and Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly, saying the network anchor is "really biased against" him.

Instead he held his own competing event in Des Moines to raise money for veterans.

Trump's absence dominated the initial moments of the debate as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush mocked him for not being there. But soon after, the candidates largely stuck to debating each other on the issues.

The top social moment of the debate on Facebook came when Cruz criticized the moderators, accusing them of inviting other candidates to attack him.

"I would note that that the last four questions have been, 'Rand, please attack Ted. Marco, please attack Ted. Chris, please attack Ted. Jeb, please attack Ted...'" Cruz said.

"It is a debate, sir," moderator Chris Wallace responded.

"Well, no, no. A debate actually is a policy issue, but I will say this -- gosh, if you guys ask one more mean question I may have to leave the stage," Cruz said.

He was the most-discussed candidate on Facebook of those who appeared on the stage, garnering 41 percent of discussion. Next up was Rubio with 18 percent, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul with 15 percent, neurosurgeon Ben Carson with 10 percent and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with 8 percent.

The top issues discussed on Facebook were immigration, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Islam and Muslims, the size of government, and the economy. And most of the chatter emanated from Iowa, where the debate took place and where voters will head to caucus sites on Monday.

Google trends about the debate did reveal some of the top queries that are still on voters' minds. The top trending question about Cruz was "Why was Ted Cruz born in Canada?" which was likely precipitated by Trump's recent questioning of his eligibility to run for president.

Users also wanted to know why former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore is still in the GOP race. Gilmore appeared in the undercard debate Thursday after being shut out of the last several debates due to his low polling numbers.

And, inexplicably, the most-searched issue related to Trump is Nigeria. The second most-searched issue is immigration.


  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.