No thanks: Trump surrogates told to stay away from First GOP Debate | World News - Hindustan Times
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No thanks: Trump surrogates told to stay away from First GOP Debate by Fox News

Aug 22, 2023 11:07 AM IST

Fox News has banned Trump surrogates from the first GOP debate after the former president confirmed he wouldn't attend.

Ahead of Wednesday’s first GOP debate, Fox News has informed the Trump campaigns that the former president’s surrogates are persona non grata from the first Republican primary debate. The decision to banish Trump surrogates appears to be taken after the former President confirmed he wouldn’t be attending the event.

FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Donald Trump's family members including his son Donald Trump Jr's girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, his son Eric and Eric's wife Lara listen as Trump announces that he will once again run for U.S. president (REUTERS)
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Donald Trump's family members including his son Donald Trump Jr's girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, his son Eric and Eric's wife Lara listen as Trump announces that he will once again run for U.S. president (REUTERS)

The New York Post stated in a report that no surrogates of any candidate would be allowed on stage and this isn’t specific to Trump. Earlier, Donald Trump Jr. had expressed his desire to attend the debate as his father’s surrogate. Trump Jr’s fiancé Kimberly Guilfoyle was also expected to show up at the event and run media for the former POTUS.

Late-summer's dip?

The decision by former President Donald Trump to skip Wednesday's first debate of the 2024 presidential primary season likely deprives Fox of a huge late-summer audience. Even worse for the network, Trump has talked of appearing in an online interview with former Fox star Tucker Carlson at the same time.

Trump's announcement on Sunday wasn't necessarily a surprise. Fox debate moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum had been preparing for two events — one if he were there and one if he wasn't.

Several Fox personalities this summer publicly urged Trump to attend the event, and Fox executives privately made the same argument to the former president. His former press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, called Trump's decision a “huge political miscalculation” on Monday on Fox.

Despite Trump's lead over other Republicans in polls, MacCallum cautioned potential viewers against dismissing a debate without him as a junior varsity event.

She cited a recent poll by The New York Times and Siena College, taken July 23-27, that showed nearly half of Trump backers in Iowa said they were open to other candidates.

“I don't think as members of the media or people who watch politics it's our place to say, Oh, this is over, these people aren't going to be the nominee,'” she said. “It's way too soon to say that.”

Big Ratings

Trump's first appearance in a GOP primary debate brought 24 million viewers to Fox in 2015. It would be next to impossible to reach those numbers again, given his novelty has worn off and cord-cutting has diminished cable news audiences. Yet when only 12.5 million watched a January 2016 Fox debate that Trump skipped, that gave an indication of his drawing power.

This summer's debate has been anticipated as a beacon for Fox News, which endured months of embarrassing headlines earlier this year related to Dominion Voting Systems' defamation lawsuit for the network's coverage of bogus claims by Trump after the 2020 election.

As the trial was about to start, Fox agreed to pay USD 787.5 million to Dominion in a settlement.

The lawsuit had little discernible impact on Fox's viewers, but when Fox fired Carlson with no explanation a week later, those fans hit back hard. The network never publicly explained why Carlson was fired, although his appearance in court papers released with the Dominion case led to several public theories being advanced.

As it has in the past, Fox relied on its bench in establishing a new lineup that debuted in July, giving prime time shows to Jesse Watters and Greg Gutfeld, popular panelists on “The Five”.

Their shows sandwich Sean Hannity on the schedule, offering a continuation of biting conservative commentary.

Fox's prime-time audience averaged 2.5 million this year through Carlson's firing, and 1.6 million for the nearly two months before the new lineup premiered. Its prime-time audience has since rebounded to 2.2 million, according to the Nielsen company.

“There has been a sense of stabilization with the new lineup,” said Steve Krakauer, publisher of the “Fourth Watch” newsletter and author of “Uncovered: How the Media Got Cozy with Power, Abandoned its Principles and Lost the People”.

How much Trump's four criminal indictments will be discussed onstage in Milwaukee is an open question, in part dependent upon what his opponents want to talk about.

Even without Trump's participation on Wednesday, “he will be on the stage even if he's not on the stage,” Baier said in an interview.

The Siena College-Times survey suggests that it wouldn't be a popular topic among regular Fox viewers. The poll found 78 per cent of people who regularly get news from Fox said Trump has not committed any serious federal crimes, and that 80 per cent said that the GOP should stand behind Trump in the cases.

Krakauer said Fox would hardly be unique among the media in wanting to give its audience what it wants, and suggested there may be some “indictment fatigue” among the audience.

With inputs from AP

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