Second GOP debate drew in lowest TV ratings since Trump became candidate in 2016

Trump maintains a substantial lead over his seven Republican rivals

Martha McHardy,Rachel Sharp
Friday 29 September 2023 10:42 BST
Watch the highlights from a stormy second GOP debate

The second GOP primary debate drew in the lowest number of TV viewers since Donald Trump first became a presidential candidate back in 2016.

Less than 10 million people tuned in to watch the Republican primary debate, which was not attended by Mr Trump, on Wednesday night, according to the Nielsen ratings service.

Meanwhile, streaming platforms attracted around 200,000 viewers, as reported by Fox News.

That is compared to the 12.8 million people who tuned in to watch the first of GOP primary debate at the end of August, also shunned by the former president.

The figures mark the lowest TV audience for any Republican presidential debate since January 2016, when Trump initially entered the race, and the Fox Business debate that same month drew in just over 11 million viewers.

By comparison, the very first GOP debate for that election cycle, which aired on Fox News in August 2015, had 24 million viewers, with numbers dropping by only one million between then and the second debate in September 2015.

It comes after a recent NBC poll showed 67 per cent of Mr Trump’s backers said that their minds were already made up about who they plan to vote for, despite the former president facing dozens of criminal charges.

Mr Trump maintains a substantial lead over his seven Republican rivals, with a 42.2-point advantage over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as per Real Clear Politics.

Taking to Truth Social on Thursday night, Mr Trump called for the end of primary debates, describing them as a waste of time that would not change the race’s trajectory.

Hitting out at the low ratings, he wrote: “The second Republican Primary Debate on FoxNews had the Lowest Viewership since 2016. Their overall Ratings are down 30%. FOX NEEDS MAGA, THEY JUST DON’T KNOW IT YET. STOP WITH THE BAD DEBATES & NEGATIVE ADS, NO MORE. GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE! DJT”

The former president has refused to attend any of the GOP primary debates so far.

Instead of taking part in the GOP debate in Simi Valley, California, on Wednesday night, Mr Trump chose to travel to Michigan for a campaign event speaking to auto workers.

The former president notably chose non-union auto plant Drake Enterprises for the event – at a time when United Auto Workers (UAW) union members are striking over pay, with President Joe Biden joining striking workers on the picket line one day earlier.

During the first Republican debate, candidates largely avoided calling out the former president for his absence but this time around several finally turned on him.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie hit out at Mr Trump for being a no-show and claimed that the real reason for his absence was because he is afraid of defending his record from his time in office.

Candidates on stage at second GOP debate
Candidates on stage at second GOP debate (Fox News)

Former US President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump gestures while speaking at Drake Enterprises, an automotive parts manufacturer and supplier, in Clinton, Michigan

In a bizarre moment – that clearly failed to draw in the cheers that he hoped – Mr Christie then trialled a new nickname for the former president: “Donald Duck.”

“I want to look in that camera now and tell you, Donald, I know you’re watching, you can’t help yourself,” Mr Christie said.

“You’re not here tonight, not because of polls and not because of your indictments. You’re not here tonight because you’re afraid of being on this stage and defending your record. You’re ducking these things.”

“Let me tell you what’s going to happen,” he continued. “You keep doing that, and no one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore. We’re gonna call you Donald Duck.”

Mr DeSantis – who has largely avoided retaliating against the former president despite his relentless attacks – also finally called out Mr Trump for avoiding his rival candidates.

“Where’s Joe Biden?” Mr DeSantis said during the debate.

“He’s completely missing in action from leadership. You know who else is missing in action? Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be on this stage tonight.”

He continued: “He owes it to you to defend his record where they added $7.8 trillion to the debt. That set the stage for the inflation we have now.”

Mr Trump’s campaign team confirmed he will not be attending the next scheduled debate, due to be held in Miami at the beginning of November.

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