The first GOP debate was a record-breaking cable event

On Thursday night, Fox News Channel hosted a Republican presidential primary debate with 10 of the 17 Republican candidates. At 24 million viewers, it became the most viewed non-ESPN program in cable history. Hell, even I tuned in for part of it (after watching the more interesting Canadian leadership debate) — the first time I’ve ever intentionally watched Fox News. Possibly even the first time I’ve watched Fox News and wasn’t also stuck in a train/bus terminal or airport.

The debate beat out last year’s record-breaker for a non-sports event, an episode of The Walking Dead, by a margin of 6.6 million viewers. The previous record-holder for a cable news event was Larry King’s 1993 moderation of a CNN debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot on NAFTA’s proposed ratification in Congress. Even that audience was 7 million smaller.

This debate had more than 20 million more viewers than the first Republican debate in 2011. Analysts credited — who else but the reality TV star? — Donald Trump’s anticipated presence for generating widespread awareness of exactly when the debate would be, so that more people didn’t miss it. Sadly, the clown car that is the 2016 Republican presidential field has officially become one of America’s top reality TV programs, it seems. A reality show like The Bachelorette only pulls in 8 million viewers at the most these days.

However, in general, Broadcast TV often still generates much larger audience numbers than cable on a fairly regular basis, although there too sports events continue to be the mega-draw. Still, the Thursday night debate exceeded the average viewership of the past decade’s most popular non-sports network show, NCIS, for both the most recent season and any other season, including its peak in 2012 at 21.34 million viewers.

Another interesting comparison point is against series finales on network TV. So for whatever it’s worth, in absolute numbers, this debate’s audience was between the finale viewership counts for St. Elsewhere (22.5m in 1988) and Full House (24.3m in 1995) — 19th and 18th respectively on the list of all-time highs for network TV series finales. However, it has been more than a decade since any network TV series finale exceeded the viewership of Thursday night’s debate. For example, the debate audience was nearly twice the audience of the much-anticipated 2014 finale of How I Met Your Mother.

Remarkably, the “JV debate” earlier in the day was still one of Fox News Channel’s highest-rated primary debates in history, although 18 million fewer people tuned in and there was barely even a live audience.

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Re: Trump rhetoric comparisons to fascism: America’s origin-story villains, the Nazis, are always portrayed as cold, unfeeling machines, because we don’t want to admit that the greatest evils of history are committed by passionate, patriotic people motivated by righteous anger and simplistic good vs. evil views. Because what’s more American than that?

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Op-Ed | Donald Trump: The Democrats’ Best 2016 Asset

The essay below was co-authored with Stephan Richter, Editor-in-Chief of The Globalist, where it originally appeared.

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Hillary Clinton’s campaign may not develop the sizzle the would-be first Madam President and her team has long planned for. But the race has already created its first, truly searing image in the skin of the American nation.

To the Democratic Party establishment’s great relief, this is not the result of any of Hillary Clinton’s missteps, of which there have been some.

Rather, the problem emerged from the inside of the tent of the Republican Party. It is commonly called the “Donald Trump problem.”

The worst part for the Republicans is that Trump has the same effect as a Trojan horse. (Beware of the “Greeks” bearing gifts, Republicans of the United States!)

Trump’s emergence in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire gives the Democrats a secret weapon to frame the race – and the entire Republican field — well before a Republican nominee emerges.

Trump’s troublesome personality characteristics and policies are essentially also true of nearly all the other Republican candidates, but nobody knows who they are and there are twenty of them. He jumped from 3% to 12% in CNN’s polling of Republican voters nationwide from May 31 to June 28. That puts him within striking distance of Jeb Bush, whose campaign is floundering.

Donald Trump’s net worth

It would be one thing if Trump’s downer effect were only that he embodies ostentatious – even offensive – wealth, far more so than Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 candidate, ever did. The comparatively reserved Romney came to symbolize the 1% class with “just” $250 million. Forbes values the flamboyant Trump at a minimum of $4.1 billion.

That also means that Trump outperforms the previous wealthiest candidate ever to seek the U.S. presidency — Ross Perot – by a factor of two. (Perot ran in 1992 as an independent against President George H.W. Bush and then-Governor Bill Clinton.)

So, he paints Republicans firmly into the corner of the money worshippers (which inoculates Hillary Clinton against similar charges).

But an ocean of money is not Trump’s only similarity to Mr. Perot. Trump represents a similar brand of nativist economic populism that is popular with a sizable chunk of American voters.

In an era where Democrats are publicly debating the economic values of their party, Trump helps divert the (rightly or wrongly) feared label of “economic populist.”

That alone would not cause Republicans a problem, were it not for the unfortunate fact that nearly all their major candidates this cycle are promoting similarly ridiculous and nativist platforms on economics, immigration and beyond.

Hillary’s man in the Republican camp

Where Trump does Hillary’s (and the Democrats’) bidding is that he is a very loud magnet for media attention. Without the Democrats trying (and leaving fingerprints), Trump highlights how not-ready-for-primetime the rest of the Republican field is.

His outrageous views on racial minorities are doubly politically problematic: First, he profits off employing “illegal” workers at construction sites.

And second, the silence of the Republican field to stand up to Trump’s race-baiting is as deafening as it is electorally deadly.
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