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The Republican primaries are the gift that keeps on giving. CNBC pulled in 14 million viewers for the third GOP face-off, resulting in the most watched night in the network’s history.
That puts the debate, which focused on the economy, as the lowest rated of the three Republican debates so far — an outcome network executives expected. But that’s still an enormous audience for CNBC, which attracted 3.1 million viewers for its debate during the last presidential-election cycle in November 2011. Previously CNBC’s most watched program in primetime was the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in February 2002, when the network attracted 3.9 million viewers.
Fox News still holds the record for debate ratings, with 24 million viewers for the first GOP face-off in August, while CNN’s three-hour Republican debate on Sept. 16 was watched by just over 23 million people. Even the Democrats pulled in 15.3 million viewers on CNN on Oct. 13.
The CNBC debate was the first since Ben Carson surged past Donald Trump in a national poll and several Iowa polls. But the candidates largely resisted vilifying each other, with the possible exception of Floridians Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Instead, the candidates united in attacking moderators Carl Quintanilla, Becky Quick and John Harwood, as well as the “mainstream media” for being in the tank for the Democrats.
It’s a familiar conservative refrain, to be sure. Rubio called the media the “ultimate Super PAC” for the Democrats. And Chris Christie lambasted the moderators for asking about fantasy football in the form of a question about legalized gambling. Trump was also characteristically derisive of the interlocutors, especially when Harwood likened Trump’s campaign to something out of a comic book. The controversial candidate scored loud applause from the audience at the University of Colorado Boulder for his closing remarks, when he took credit (shared with Carson) for keeping the debate at two hours “so we could get the hell out of here.”
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