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Trump’s Fox News town hall drew in lower ratings than DeSantis-Newsom debate

Donald Trump is not the candidate he was in 2016.

Don’t just take it from Ron DeSantis.

The former president appeared for a town hall with Fox’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday, a day before the fourth GOP primary debate attended by his lower-polling rivals for the 2024 Republican nomination. But while Mr Trump remains in clear control of the Republican primary electorate, according to all available polling, he is objectively not pulling the same kind of audiences and presenting the same kind of spectacle that he could during his first presidential run.

Nielsen ratings indicated that Mr Trump’s town hall on Wednesday reached about 3.16m viewers — beating the direct audience (1.59m) of NewsNation’s Republican presidential debate but trailing the total viewership counting a simulcast of the event on the CW, which totaled around 4.1m people.

His appearance on Hannity also trailed another televised political contest — the debate between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and California Governor Gavin Newsom moderated by Hannity just a week prior. That debate, which featured a rival for the GOP nomination and Mr Newsom, long considered to have his own national ambitions, drew in 4.75m viewers.

The numbers aren’t everything. But they do show one thing: Fewer Americans are tuning in to a president whose ability to draw huge crowds and carry a cable news timeslot was once a given.

It’s a reason for both Mr DeSantis and his fellow Republican presidential contenders — especially Nikki Haley, who is surging in both polling and donations in recent weeks — to feel a glimmer of hope. But just a glimmer.

Voting begins in Iowa in just over one month. Mr Trump still leads his challengers handily in both of the first two nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, where strong victories could provide the momentum his campaign needs to steamroll his opponents through the rest of the primary.

Wednesday night’s GOP debate in Alabama was the last of 2023, but will no longer be the final televised meetup of the candidates of the 2024 cycle. CNN announced on Thursday that it would hold two debates in Iowa and New Hampshire next month before those respective states hold their contests. Mr Trump is likely to skip those as well.

His rivals lobbed insults at each other at the fourth debate on Wednesday but apart from last-place candidate Chris Christie, largely refrained from sharp criticism of the frontrunner.