Trump town hall viewership on Fox News tops CNN’s Republican debate audience

By Helen Coster

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Roughly 4.4 million people watched former U.S. President Donald Trump’s live town hall on Fox News on Wednesday, topping the roughly 2.6 million people who watched two of his Republican rivals debate on CNN, according to Nielsen ratings data released on Thursday.

Trump opted to appear on Fox rather than participate in the evening’s Republican debate between presidential contenders Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, which aired for two hours on CNN, overlapping with the town hall for one hour.

CNN said in a press release that the debate reached 6.4 million people across CNN and the CNN Max streaming service.

Both events took place in Des Moines, capital of Iowa, where the first Republican nominating contest will take place on Monday.

Trump’s refusal to attend any of the Republican Party debates so far has turned them into sideshows with dwindling viewers. The first debate in August drew 12.8 million viewers, and audiences have declined since then.

Wednesday’s Fox News audience was bigger than the 3.3 million viewers who watched Trump’s May 2023 live town hall on Warner Bros Discovery-owned CNN, his first appearance on the network since 2016.

It was also larger than Trump’s previous live town hall on Fox Corp-owned Fox News in May 2020, which drew 3.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings data.

The town hall marked a new chapter for Trump and Rupert Murdoch-controlled Fox. Trump has had a rocky history with the network, one of the most powerful media forces in Republican politics.

After enjoying a friendly relationship with Fox for years, he began criticizing the top-watched U.S. cable network in 2020. He did not appear on the network for months in 2022 and 2023.

Trump’s most recent appearances on Fox have been pretaped, not live, which gave the network more control over how it could address and present any claims that the 2020 election had been rigged. Those claims formed the basis of two defamation lawsuits brought by voting technology companies against Fox, including one by Dominion Voting Systems that was settled for $787.5 million in April.

During Wednesday’s town hall, Trump said he knows who he wants for his running mate should he win the Republican nomination and that his commitment to the NATO alliance will depend on how Europeans treat the United States.

(Reporting by Helen Coster; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)