Many Republicans, not least National Review staffers, have perhaps been perplexed and annoyed by the sheer frequency of the GOP presidential debates so far this year. While the likes of Herman Cain and Gary Johnson may provide more entertainment than the drier candidates of 2008, we’ve now had eight debates with eight or so candidates, and they’ve begun to be quite repetitive — but their ratings haven’t begun to slide. From the New York Times:
This September, Fox’s debate — in Florida, with Mr. Romney, Mr. Paul and new names like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann — attracted almost twice as many viewers: 6.1 million, the highest so far this year. The very first televised Republican debate this spring attracted almost 3.3 million viewers, while the first debate in the spring of 2007 had 1.8 million.
The Times offers a variety of explanations for the higher ratings, including an excited and angry Republican electorate, lots of internet chatter, and higher production values.
These high ratings have led just about every network, including relatively obscure ones like Bloomberg, to want to host their own. Interestingly, the networks do not necessarily make much money from the debate ratings per se, because there are very few ads, but the affiliation with the campaign and the ability to interview candidates is well worth it. Michael Clemente of Fox News is quoted as saying, “It’s a great tentpole . . . you get to showcase your best people.” CNN didn’t quite manage to showcase Anderson Cooper last night, though, when he made no effort to moderate any of the intense bickering between candidates.
Regardless, there is no end in sight. Twelve more Republican debates are scheduled for the next six months — and networks are hoping to schedule more.