NEW YORK—An estimated 13.5 million people watched the fourth Republican presidential debate of the season on the Fox Business Network, which traded the fireworks of the previous CNBC encounter for a more sedate discussion on economic issues.
It was easily the most-watched program on FBN’s history, just as the previous debates set viewership records for Fox News Channel, CNN and CNBC. The CNBC debate reached 14 million viewers, and the other two were each seen by more than 20 million people.
The debates have consistently exceeded expectations as a television attraction, and proved viewers will hunt for their political fix. The little-known FBN is in roughly three-quarters of the nation’s television homes, often high up on the channel dial, and has never reached as many as 1 million viewers for any of its telecasts.
Moderators Neil Cavuto and Mario Bartiromo of FBN and Gerard Baker of The Wall Street Journal were closely watched after Republicans complained CNBC moderators were unduly harsh and ineffective in their questioning.
There were no onstage complaints on Tuesday.
“Thank you for not asking me what I said in the 10th grade. I appreciate that,” candidate Ben Carson said after Cavuto asked him what stories questioning the accuracy of his biography were doing to his campaign.
While Carson chuckled, Cavuto grinned, and then said, I will forget that follow-up.”
Questions concerned tax policy, jobs, immigration and retiree benefits, before a late-debate detour into foreign policy. The two-hour-plus debate even ended with Cavuto teasing the candidates, thanking them for “saving time by talking over one another.” Then he got serious.
“Business issues can be riveting, because it wasn’t about us, it was about them,” he said.
Candidates were not directly pitted against one another, as they often were in previous debates. For some people, that meant a duller affair—the New York Daily News called it a “snoozefest.”
More than once Bartiromo had to press candidates to answer questions they blew past in order to launch into crowd-pleasing speeches.
Online, the debate’s high point was 1.4 million streams, Fox said. Twitter said the most tweeted-about moment came when Ted Cruz talked about the security of the U.S. borders. Twitter said there were more tweets about Cruz than any other candidate.
Fox News chief Roger Ailes sent a memo praising his employees on Wednesday. “Every one of our team leaders accomplished our goal of presenting a serious, meaningful debate while holding the audience,” he wrote.