58 million viewers: Debate ratings top first debate from 2008; Update: Revised upwards to 67.2 million; Update: 70 million?

The last time a beating this brutal drew a wider audience was Ali-Foreman, I believe.

More than 58 million people watched the first Presidential debate last night between President Obama and Mitt Romney, up substantially from the first debate in the 2008 election cycle, which had 52.4 million viewers.

Fox News was the most-watched cable news network during the debate, and will likely be the most-watched network on TV, though final broadcast numbers will not be released until after 4 PM.

The second Obama/McCain debate in 2008 drew 63.2 million but those ratings were goosed by off-the-charts public interest in Palin’s VP debate held five days earlier. Ryan/Biden won’t build the same degree of curiosity for Romney/Obama II, but the fact that Romney destroyed The One yesterday might. Casual voters who passed on last night’s show will see the headlines today and wonder if Romney can do it again; pair that with the fact that the next debate is a townhall format, which adds a bit of unpredictability, and you might see huge ratings on October 16. Then again, the first debate is usually (but not always) the highest-rated of the three, probably because of the novelty of seeing the combatants finally together on stage and dueling. That being so, if there’s any debate to which you want to bring your A-game, it’s the first — which is why desperate rationalizations like this are even dumber and lamer than they appear:

I promised you the Luntz focus-group video in last night’s thread but it wasn’t posted until late, so here it is at last. (MSNBC’s focus group also agreed that Romney won.) Can’t wait to see which new persona O rolls out 12 days from now to overcompensate for last night’s deficiencies. If you disliked him as the passive, lethargic incumbent forced to defend a failed presidency, you’ll loathe the angry, table-pounding class warrior who wants to know Mitt Romney’s annual effective tax rates since 1970 and wants to know them now, mister.

Update: I take it back. I should have said that a beating this brutal hasn’t been seen by so many people since Frazier-Ali I:

I forgot how dramatically the ratings can inflate after the preliminary assessments. With the new numbers, it turns out Romney/Obama drew nearly as many viewers as the Palin/Biden VP blowout in 2008. Bad, bad, bad timing for The One to perform so terribly.

Update: A fair point by the NYT:

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