From the very first debate, which set a ratings record for Fox News back in August, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has taken every possible opportunity to remind networks that he’s the man bringing the big ratings–and without him, you stand to lose a lot of money.
Trump used that ratings and revenue leverage to demand CNBC shorten its October debate from three hours to two, but his effort to have Megyn Kelly removed as a debate moderator on Fox News failed.
Now Trump’s bluster will be put to the test. Will Fox News continue to get far-higher-than-average ratings for tonight’s debates, or will Trump’s counter programming, a town hall meeting held at Drake University, put a dent in Fox’s armor?
As of 8 o’clock this morning, Trump remains confident:
The "debate" tonight will be a total disaster – low ratings with advertisers and advertising rates dropping like a rock. I hate to see this.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2016
Advertising rates “dropping like a rock”? Fox News says not so. In a statement to TVNewser, a network spokesperson said “the debate is completely sold out. No rates have changed and there are no advertisers who have backed out. Prices don’t change once the orders have been placed.”
In an interview on CNN Wednesday evening, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said “I think we’ll have a much better viewership” than the Fox News debate, since the choice will be watching “a leader” versus a stage filled with “career politicians.”
At a media availability in Iowa, Trump again noted his unusual leverage over the television networks when he said of Fox News, “with me, they’re dealing with someone who’s a little bit different. They can’t toy with me like they toy with everybody else. So let them have their debate, and let’s see how they do with the ratings…now let’s see how many people watch.”
But watch where? Last night, CNN’s Don Lemon seemed to suggest the Drake University event would be carried live on CNN, saying “you can watch Donald Trump here tomorrow night.”