Like most things Donald Trump does, his announcement that he would boycott Thursday’s Republican debate was a combination of egotistical impulse and calculation. The ego part: Megyn Kelly, Fox’s moderator, had treated him “unfairly.” The calculation part: If he, Donald Trump, the GOP’s single biggest ratings draw, were absent from the debate, it would be a flop, and his competing charity event would pull viewers away from Fox and toward his own telecast on CNN and MSNBC. “Fox will go from having probably 24 million viewers for the debate to, you know, 2 million,” predicted Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Turns out Lewandowski vastly overestimated his candidate’s appeal. According to Nielsen, Fox’s debate drew 12.5 million viewers. Competing channels where Trump’s event was broadcast had a combined total of 2.8 million.
It’s worth noting that 12.5 million is way down from December’s ratings, when a Republican debate attracted 18 million viewers, and roughly half the figure for the first GOP debate in August, which drew an average audience of nearly 23 million. Most commentators agreed that the most notable thing on Fox last night was the Trump-size hole onstage, just as he’d wished it, but apparently very few people missed his showmanship enough to tune into his veterans’-charity event. Only one thing is certain: Jeb Bush owes us all $20.