Fox News is President Donald Trump's network of choice, but it appears he's no longer a ratings goldmine. Although the president has held more rallies around the country than ever, Fox News has recently stopped airing most of his events in full because viewership numbers for Trump's events have dipped below some of Fox News' own programming.
Trump held three rallies last week. On Saturday, the network showed Trump's speech from Topeka, Kansas, in full. But a Tuesday rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, was not aired live on any major network. Last night, instead of airing a rally Trump held in Erie, Pennsylvania, Fox News stuck with its coverage of Hurricane Michael.
The Nielsen ratings indicate that Trump is no longer a surefire bet to beat Fox personalities Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, or Laura Ingraham. On August 30, a Trump rally in Evansville, Indiana, took the network's 8 p.m. slot, earning 2.536 million viewers. However, that number is 2.8 million viewers Carlson averaged at that time during 2018’s third quarter.
The president rallied far less frequently in 2017, but his events at times commanded more than 4 million viewers on Fox News. A Politico assessment of Nielsen ratings found that Trump hasn't come close to that number in 2018. Nielsen shows that Trump's rallies this year have typically ranged from 2.5 to 3.5 million viewers. That depends "on a variety of factors, including day, time and whether there’s something big on another channel," Politico notes.
With so many rallies, “they don’t want to give up so much prime-time real estate,” said one person familiar with Fox News’ decision making.
A Senate Republican campaign staffer said of the coverage of Trump rallies:
“It exposes us to a national audience that we normally don’t get to. We tend to see lots of new sign-ups and small-dollar donations. There’s obviously folks streaming [rallies] online, but being able to be onstage with the president in front of a prime-time audience is huge for a campaign trying to reach conservatives across the country who will open up their wallets.”
A source close to the president described the declining coverage as a “huge loss on the state and local level for Republicans because they’re certainly not going to get any of that on other cable networks." They added: “If they stop taking them completely, that might create a problem. Trump is a massive consumer of the media, so he may be disappointed.”
Neither the White House nor Fox News has responded to requests for comment. A senior White House official said officials plan to investigate why the network would decide to cut away from presidential rallies. The official noted that it's likely White House communications director Bill Shine, a former Fox News executive, has spoken to colleagues about the trend.
The president has faced heated criticism for his decision to hold the rally in Erie just hours after Hurricane Michael, a category four storm, made landfall in Florida.
.@realDonaldTrump is spending his time “helping” Americans facing Hurricane Michael, by assembling an angry mob in… https://t.co/M2Hj8GeW7y— Scott Dworkin (@Scott Dworkin) 1539211136.0
Can you even IMAGINE Hillary or Obama doing a campaign rally during a major hurricane? I can't either. I LONG for t… https://t.co/pNjiccLP3Q— Rabbi Jill Zimmerman (@Rabbi Jill Zimmerman) 1539231888.0
Dear Floridians, Tragically, while some are losing everything, including their lives, Trump is having an inconsequ… https://t.co/NyZGseSKaW— Bill Madden (@Bill Madden) 1539218113.0
While Hurricane Michael slams the Florida Panhandle, leaving thousands without power, homes destroyed, car floating… https://t.co/5Q7u8C9zYe— Michael Skolnik (@Michael Skolnik) 1539217700.0
The president defended himself, saying canceling the event would be "very, very unfair to thousands of people."
President Trump defends attending his Erie rally on the day Hurricane Michael hit, saying canceling the event would… https://t.co/zMrv1r1Kbn— CNN (@CNN) 1539210801.0
Officials are concerned the death toll from the hurricane could rise as search crews struggle to gain access to severely affected areas.