CNN’s decision to host a town hall with twice-impeached, criminally indicted, convicted sexual abuser Donald Trump did not pay off, with the event garnering just a mere fraction of the former president’s previous viewers.
The Wednesday night event was jam-packed with some of Trump’s greatest hits: lies, misogynistic attacks, election conspiracy theories, and insults leveled at anyone who tried to fact-check him. Countless people in the news media, including CNN employees, have slammed the town hall and the network for hosting it.
But even though many news outlets, The New Republic included, remain absolutely gobsmacked at the prime-time train wreck we witnessed Wednesday night, it turns out that not that many people witnessed it with us. The town hall averaged just 3.1 million viewers.
For comparison, almost 71.5 million people watched Trump win the 2016 election. In 2020, later, an average of 21.6 million viewers watched the Republican National Convention—far fewer than the previous election, but still miles away from Wednesday night.
That’s got to sting for Trump, who cares deeply about television ratings. Throughout his presidency, he was obsessed with how many people tuned in to watch his speeches, more so than the actual content of his speech. This gave us many reality television–style gems intended to attract more eyeballs, such as waving a Q-tip around during a coronavirus briefing or giving Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union.
When everyone was either trapped at home or sick with Covid-19, Trump bragged repeatedly that his daily briefings got some of the highest ratings on television. And in February, he posted an internal “viewership report” on Truth Social claiming that the ratings for his visit to East Palestine, Ohio, were “off the charts”—even though no major network covered the trip.
It’s funny that someone so ratings-obsessed got such terrible ratings, but an even better idea would have been not giving Trump that kind of a platform in the first place.