Now, categorizing and quantifying questions according to their content is a little tricky. Here at The Fix, we counted questions that were repeated for multiple candidates in sequence only once. Similarly, a follow-up seeking additional clarity was counted as part of the original question. A slightly different system might yield slightly different totals.
But the point is that candidates got basically the same — if not exactly the same — number of issues-based questions in each debate.
So why did the two events feel so different? More question-counting suggests that the reason had little to do with what the Fox moderators did and everything to do with what they didn't.
In Boulder, many questions included the suggestion that a candidate's record or proposals might be flawed — 12, by our tally. A few examples:
John Harwood to Donald Trump: "Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?"
Carl Quintanilla to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): "Why not slow down, get a few more things done first, or least finish what you start?"
Becky Quick to Carly Fiorina: "Anybody who was following the market knows that your stock was a much worse performer, if you looked at your competitors, if you looked at the overall market. ... Your board fired you. I just wondered why you think we should hire you now."
In Milwaukee, on the other hand, only three inquiries came loaded with the same kind of skepticism, such as Neil Cavuto's question to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) about his flat tax plan: "Don't you risk, sir, creating a near-term budget crisis just as your presidency would be beginning?"
Even the tough questions featured a polite "sir."
Also consider the number of times moderators pressed candidates for additional information or clarity on questions that hadn’t been answered to their satisfaction. The Fox crew did it 15 times; CNBC's did it 24. The result was fewer testy exchanges.
In a classic case of addition by subtraction, Fox earned high marks from the GOP not by loading Tuesday's debate with more wonkery, but by cutting the confrontational tone.
From there, it's about whether you think that's a good thing or a bad thing. Clearly and unsurprisingly, Republicans thought it was a good thing.