Jumping the gun on Fox News’ GOP debate tonight, Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson made it clear to Rupert Murdoch that revenge is a dish best served online. Running like an incumbent with no desire to share the spotlight with Vice Presidents wannabes, Trump easily dominated the debate by never showing up.
“It’s debate night, but we’re not in Milwaukee,” Carlson proclaimed at the top of the video with a sour looking Trump by his side.
“We’re doing this interview, but we’ll get bigger ratings using this crazy forum that you’re using than probably the debate,” said the former POTUS and leading candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination to the former FNC Golden Boy on their pre-recorded chat that debut on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter at 5:55 PM PST, five minutes before the live debate began.
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While the days of 24 million tuning into a Republican contenders debate on Fox in 2015 are likely long gone, Trump’s boast to Carlson of the much-hyped counter programming reflect the former’s obsession with the increasingly outdate metric as a sign of his power and influence. Long fueled by grievance, both Trump and Tucker clearly wanted to show their old cable news home they didn’t need Fox anymore, and that the center of conservative political power had shifted with their gravitational pull.
If you didn’t get that point, the never less than obvious Trump said it out loud to Carlson early in their sit-down at his Bedminster, NJ estate. Calling Fox News “a network that isn’t particularly friendly to me,” the one-term President made sure to get in swipes at the “lost cause” of one-time protégé Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the same breath.
Goaded by Carlson to add in digs at the decline of TV in today’s digital era, POTUS 45 hit out at cable losses because “it has lost credibility.” He also blasted old foil CNN as “dead …doing no ratings at all” Overall, Trump’s talk with Carlson was full of self-pity cries about being betrayed by “bad guy” Mitch McConnell, his impeachments, his four indictments, Hilary Clinton, Joe Biden, and protests, among his so-called greatest hits.
“What’s next …don’t they have to kill you now?” Carlson asked a somewhat shocked Trump. “It’s all bullshit,” Trump replied in a typical deflection with a rambling attack on “corrupt” and “incompetent” Biden, who is “compromised” by China. “In many ways, we have a Manchurian candidate!”
With references to the Panama Canal, a second American Civil War, “fascist” electric cars, ending the war in Ukraine, and “beautiful hair,” the interview took some other unexpected turns with Carlson asking if Trump thought it’s possible that (Jeffrey) Epstein was killed? In reply to the mention of his old sex offender friend who died behind bars in 2019, Trump said: “I think he probably committed suicide. He had a life with beautiful homes and beautiful everything and all of a sudden he’s incarcerated.”
A lot less of a presence on Fox than he was in 2016 and during his White House reign, the former Celebrity Apprentice host reveled in pleas from the Murdoch outlet to appear on stage with Gov. Ron DeSantis and the other seven GOP dwarfs in Milwaukee tonight. Toying with Fox, Trump made it official on August 20 that he would not be participating in the shindig – that announcement came days after he had already filmed his interview with Carlson.
Hosted by FNC’s Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, tonight’s debate features DeSantis, former VP Mike Pence, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, former pharmaceutical executive Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. The vast majority of the candidates are polling in the single digits against far away frontrunner Trump and second place DeSantis.
As well as Trump’s shadow darkening the contenders, President Joe Biden also has a hefty presence with the current inhabitant of the Oval Office running reelection ads on Fox. Regardless of if the much-indicted Trump gets the GOP nod against Biden, 2024 is already shaping up to be a multi-billion dollar advertising bonanza for linear TV and every other platform.
Taking his own digs at former colleague Chris Wallace (a “bitchy little man”) tonight, the past host of FNC’s top rated Tucker Carlson Tonight was taken off the air by Fox on April 24.
The move, which still sees Carlson under contract to Fox, came just days after the company paid Dominion Voting Systems $787.5 million on the first day of trial to settle defamation claims over false 2020 election claims – many of which were promoted by Carlson himself. While Fox says the two issues aren’t related, they have tried to keep Carlson from becoming a competitor. With that, despite all the huffing, puffing and leaked video, Carlson was able to launch a low-fi show on Twitter on June 6 with little interference from Fox.
Since the 121 million views that the first Tucker on Twitter, which is now Tucker on X, pulled in the numbers for the venture on the Elon Musk-owned platform have had a pretty steady decline. Of course, determining how many people really are watching is a bit of a guessing game. Though X/Twitter has recently removed the specific viewership numbers on a post, even before then views could be counted when it was just someone who scrolled by.
Rumored to be wanting to form his own media company in possible conjunction with X as a primary platform once he is free of his ongoing Fox contract, Carlson’s bet on Trump tonight will be judged as a success for the attention it received, whatever the numbers are.
With that, Trump’s nearly 47-minute chat with Carlson was showing around 75 million views just over half an hour into the GOP debate. Then again, tionight was just the warm-up act to Trump surrendering to law enforcement in Atlanta on Thursday to face charges in his most recent indictment on 2020 election tampering in Georgia.
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