Former President Donald Trump’s town hall event, aired on Fox News, has significantly outperformed the CNN-hosted Republican presidential debate featuring Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis in terms of viewership.
Trump’s town hall, which was counter-programming to the CNN debate, attracted a remarkable 4.3 million viewers between 9 and 10 p.m. In contrast, the CNN debate with Haley and DeSantis averaged 2.5 million viewers during the same time slot.
Trump’s decision to participate in the independent town hall event, rather than joining the CNN debate, appeared to have been a strategic move that paid off in viewership. The town hall was co-moderated by Fox News anchors Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier, providing Trump with a platform to engage with his audience directly.
For comparison sake, Fox's town halls with Haley on Monday and DeSantis on Tuesday averaged 2.2 million viewers each. (Caveat: Those were at 6pm, typically a lower-rated hour than 9pm.)
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) January 11, 2024
The approach not only allowed Trump to bypass the debate format but also to create a distinct media event that resonated more effectively with viewers.
The ratings for the CNN debate, in comparison, were the lowest among the series of Republican debates for this election cycle. The first debate, aired on Fox News and Fox Business, had garnered 12.8 million viewers, indicating a significant drop in interest as the debate series progressed.
Trump’s ability to outperform even the first primary debate, through his interview with Tucker Carlson, further showed his media savvy. Fox News’ coverage of Trump’s town hall also surpassed CNN in the demographic most coveted by advertisers, adults aged 25-54 according to Fox News.
During the town hall in Iowa on Wednesday night, Trump revealed that he has already picked his vice presidential candidate.
“Who would be in the running for a vice president?” Martha MacCallum asked him.
“Well, I can’t tell you that really,” Trump replied. “I mean, I know who it’s going to be.”
“You give us a hint,” Bret Baier said.
“We’ll do another show sometime,” Trump said.
Trump also took one final jab at his one-time ally and transition team leader, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who bowed out of the presidential race Wednesday after failing to poll above single digits in any state.
Baier asked Trump about the hot mic moment in which Christie predicted that Haley’s presidential bid will soon go up in flames. The former president suggested that the tape overshadowed Christie’s campaign announcement before taking jabs at each of his rivals.
When asked whether Christie’s exit will have a tangible impact on the race, Trump stated that it was unlikely.
In the leaked audio, Christie can be heard saying, “Yeah, that’s what you get. I mean look, she spent 68 million so far. She’s on TV. Spent 68 million so far. 59 million by DeSantis. And we spent 12. I mean who’s punching above their weight and who’s getting a return on their investment.”
“And she’s going to get smoked,” Christie said. “And you and I both know it. She’s not up to this. She’s still 20 points behind Trump in New Hampshire.”
Elsewhere in the town hall, Trump drew a loud pop of laughter from the crowd when he suggested that Christie could be his pick for vice president. “Will you be open to mending fences with any of them?” Baier asked in reference to Trump’s Republican rivals.
“Oh sure, I will, I will. I’ve already started to like Christie better,” Trump answered.
As the 2024 presidential race heats up, Trump’s ability to command media attention and draw viewers will undoubtedly play a crucial role.