The second Republican presidential debate saw a significant decline in ratings compared to the first, with fewer than 10 million viewers tuning in. According to Nielsen data, 9.5 million people watched the debate, with 6.7 million on Fox News, 1.8 million on Fox Business, and 813,000 on Univision. This marked a 25% drop in viewership compared to the first GOP primary debate, which had 12.8 million viewers.
The decline in viewership is particularly noticeable when compared to the GOP presidential debates in 2015. The first debate in the summer of 2015, hosted by Fox News, attracted nearly 24 million viewers, while the second, hosted by CNN, had 22.9 million viewers.
Despite the drop in viewership, the debate was still the most-watched cable or network television program on that Wednesday night. However, the numbers raised concerns for Republican hopefuls like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, and Sen. Tim Scott, who were hoping for a breakout moment to catch up to former President Donald Trump, currently leading in the polls.
During the debate, Trump, who has not participated in the debates, was mentioned when former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attempted to nickname him “Donald Duck.”
Conservative commentators criticized the second debate for failing to address issues and questions important to Republican voters. Some described it as a “s**t show,” with Daily Wire Editor Emeritus Ben Shapiro offering grades for the candidates’ performances. Independent journalist Megyn Kelly also criticized various aspects of the debate, from lighting and questions to candidates’ appearances and responses.
Overall, the decline in viewership and criticisms from conservatives highlight the challenges faced by Republican candidates in gaining traction and making an impact in a crowded field.