Fox News Channel’s GOP rumble last night set a 2016 presidential debate ratings record. Nearly 17 million viewers tuned in to watch Donald Trump brag about the size of his “hands,” defend torture and flip-flop on immigration, Ted Cruz give Trump breathing tips, John Kasich play hall monitor, etc. The debate marks the second biggest audience in FNC’s nearly 20-year history, behind only its first GOP debate in August, which clocked 24 million viewers – the biggest number in cable-news history.
Moderated by Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace, last night’s debate delivered 5.5 million in the news demo, 25-54. On the digital side, the FNC debate live stream had 2.4 million video starts and peaked at 1.5M concurrent streams, according to Omniture and Akamai.
A special post-debate The O’Reilly Factor last night at 11 PM ET delivered 7.4 million viewers, marking the show’s highest-rated telecast of the year.
Last night’s number runs laps around the most recent GOP debate, which had clocked about 13 million on CNN (another 1M+ watched on co-hosting Telemundo). CNN’s haul had had been slightly shy of two earlier GOP debates last month: CBS’ 13.5 million and ABC’s 13.2 million. But all of those debates had eclipsed FNC’s previous GOP debate, which logged 11.1 million viewers back in January. On the other hand, those three February Republican debates had featured GOP front-runner/reality TV star Donald Trump, while FNC’s January debate had not. Trump boycotted, and initially cited Kelly as his reason, Kelly having irked him with opening questions at that very first debate about his past characterizations of women.
Trump was very much the focus of last night’s debate, which took place hours after the party’s 2012 nominee Mitt Romney called Trump a “con artist”: and a “fraud” who was taking the American public for a ride.