The good news for Fox News is that 13 million people watched a Republican debate featuring eight candidates who will never be president, which is bad news for Trump. The bad news for the Republican Party is that the debate audience was about half of 2016.
Per live plus same day data from Nielsen, more than 11.09 million total viewers ended up watching last night’s debate co-moderated by Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier on Fox News Channel. Tack on the 1.7 million who watched on Fox Business Network and non-linear/streaming figures, and you have a total of 12.8 million consuming the two-hour broadcast across linear and streaming.
Fox News still holds the presidential primary debate viewership record: 24 million watched the Republicans battle it out in Aug. 2015.
Whether Trump is at the debate or not, that record 24 million number from 2016 is not going to happen. The warning sign for Republicans is that the first debate is almost always the most watched. 2024 might be different because if Trump decides to show up, it will increase viewership.
Trump hoped that he could kill the Republican presidential debates by not showing up, but tens of millions of people still watched. Debates with or without Trump are very lucrative for TV networks, so the Republican primary debates will continue. However, the fact that the 13 million number of viewers came from combining the totals on Fox News, Fox Business, and streaming suggests a real lack of enthusiasm among voters for what Republicans are offering.
Donald Trump is convinced that he drew 200 million views for his interview with Tucker Carlson on Twitter, so he is going to have even less incentive to debate in the future. (Trump didn’t draw 200 million actual views on Twitter.).
On the surface, the debate ratings look good for Republicans, but the bigger picture suggests that the ratings will sharply decline for the second debate, and the Republican Party might struggle if it is led by the zombie candidacy of Donald Trump.