The ratings for Fox News Channel’s Republican presidential primary debate took an expected hit from Donald Trump’s decision not to participate in the event, staged Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa.
The debate, which fell four days before the state’s nominating caucuses, averaged 12.5 million viewers from 9 to 11 p.m. Eastern time. It was the second-smallest audience of the seven GOP primary debates and about half of what Fox News scored with its first Republican debate in August.
Even with the decline, the debate attracted the second-largest audience in Fox News’ history and was the most watched program in prime time, according to Nielsen. Trump had predicted the event would be a “total disaster” without him, but the audience exceeded the 11 million who watched his last debate appearance.
In the days leading up to the debate, Trump’s campaign lobbied Fox to remove Kelly as a moderator. Fox held firm, and Trump decided to skip the event after the network issued a statement that tweaked the candidate over his concern about facing her again.
Trump held his own event — billed as a fundraiser for wounded military veterans — at nearby Drake University and received sporadic live coverage on rival cable news networks CNN and MSNBC. From 9:15 to 10:15 p.m. Eastern time, the two networks had a combined audience of 3.1 million viewers.
For weeks, President Obama kept quiet as the Donald helped fuel “birther” conspiracy theories.
“He doesn’t have a birth certificate,” Trump told “Good Morning America” in spring 2011. “He may have one, but there is something on that birth certificate -- maybe religion, maybe it says he’s a Muslim, I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that. Or, he may not have one.” Trump also told a tea party rally that Obama “almost certainly will go down as the worst president in the history of the United States.”
But Obama seemed to get the last laugh when, right after releasing his long-form birth certificate, he lampooned Trump at the White House correspondents’ dinner. “Now he can get to focusing on the issues that matter,” the president said. “Like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened at Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?” Zing!
But that didn’t quiet Trump. The Donald fired back during Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign with a “big announcement” goading Obama to release his college transcripts the October before the election so that he would donate $5 million to charity. Turns out the offer was one the president could easily refuse.
OK, so it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “Hello, Newman,” the greeting the fictional
Yet should one cross Trump, don’t expect a shrug and a handshake. Instead, Seinfeld received a rant after the comedian backed out of a charity benefit hosted by one of Trump’s sons, supposedly because of the birther issue. Seinfeld’s camp has been relatively quiet, but Trump was quoted as taking a swing at Seinfeld’s TV credits.
No, not the beloved “Seinfeld,” but instead the unscripted show
They exchanged barbed words in November 2010 over the project with Trump saying, “I like the developer, but it’s always very tough to make something successful at the high-end level with a public school in the building.” Gehry said that Trump was just holding a grudge ever since he turned down working on one of his projects, adding, “I don’t like his hairdo anyway.”
Touché, Frank. Touché. (Getty Images)
The pop star supposedly backed out of a Trump event due to a lingering battle with bronchitis. Yet the next day Rihanna performed in Los Angeles at the NBA All-Star Game. Trump wasn’t too hard on Rihanna, but he was quoted in the Palm Beach Post: “I thought [the cancellation] was insulting to everyone. But for Rihanna to go to the All-Star Game and perform after she told us she was sick, that is just a lack of respect.” (Getty Images)
It may have started when
“I’ll NEVER GO TO MACY’S AGAIN!” Cher tweeted. “I didn’t know they sold Donald Trump’s Line! If they don’t care that they sell products from a LOUDMOUTH.”
But Trump didn’t take the tirade sitting down, firing back about the singer’s surgical procedures.
“Cher-- I don’t wear a ‘rug'--it’s mine. And I promise not to talk about your massive plastic surgeries that didn’t work.” (Getty Images / Los Angeles Times)
In the hours before the debate, Fox News tried to make peace with Trump in the hope that he would change his mind and show up. But the network said the candidate asked for a $5-million contribution to a veterans charity in return for his appearance, an unacceptable request for any news organization.
Fox News anticipated a huge audience for Thursday night after its broadcast of the first GOP showdown on Aug. 6 attracted 24 million viewers. The record-setting audience for a nonsports cable telecast revealed that Trump was a powerful attraction for the debates, which in past election cycles typically scored well under 10 million viewers.
Fox News had reportedly sold some of the 30-second spots for its telecast for more than $250,000, which has become the going rate for the GOP gatherings.
But Fox News executives fully expected the absence of Trump to hurt ratings and were willing to absorb the hit in order to support Kelly and not be seen as capitulating to the demands of a candidate. The network expects to meet the ratings guaranteed to advertisers once DVR playback is added in.
Overall, the audience levels for the GOP debates have been on a downward trend since the first two. CNBC had 14 million viewers on Oct. 28. Fox Business scored 13.5 million viewers with its first debate on Nov. 10 and 11 million on Jan. 14.
Trump will have to decide again whether he wants to face Kelly, as she will be a moderator at the next Republican primary debate on Fox News — along with Bret Baier and Chris Wallace — scheduled for some time in March.