With hindsight we could have known back in June of 2015 when Donald and Melania Trump merely rode down an escalator and got on national TV. Two months later, even in peak vacation season, the first Republican debate on Fox News Channel broke primary debate records.
An historic political upset Election Day spiced viewer interest globally. But once the inauguration was over surely things would settle down as Americans returned to their normal programming.
Here we are at the end of the first quarter of 2017 and the Trump presidency has propelled TV viewership to record numbers. Better numbers even than the last quarter of 2016 containing the actual election suspense.
Trump’s national job approval numbers have sunk to the pathetic mid-thirties from their modest late January peak of 46%, although interestingly, as we wrote here, approval varies widely by region.
But for a combination of fascinating reasons, Americans on all sides can’t seem to get enough of this larger-than-life character. In this Faustian deal, a wily Trump with an insatiable ego gets to dominate the news and the media he says he hates makes fortunes off of it all.
“Fox was the number one channel on cable overall,” Politico reports, “beating the likes of ESPN, HGTV, Nickelodeon and USA network for overall viewers in both prime-time and total day.”
For 24-hour viewership Fox News had the best quarter in the history of cable news, an average of 1.7 million viewers a day and 2.8 million in prime-time. That daily viewership was up 27% over 2016, prime-time up 20%. With its highest-rated quarter ever, “The O’Reilly Factor” was the most-watched cable news show, followed by “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
The cable network derided by Trumpers as the Clinton News Network said it had its most-watched quarter in 14 years. Thank you, Mr. President. Even perennially sad old also-ran msnbc beat CNN in prime-time. Though still lagging in total viewers, msnbc exceeded Fox News in percentage growth.
To be honest, there is a strong scent of professional wrestling in all this, good guys against bad guys entertaining vast, vociferous, committed crowds with their seemingly unpredictable but choreographed combat. Feelings on all sides were heightened by the unexpected outcome Nov. 8 that confirmed Trump fans’ far-fetched belief in his victory and allowed them to relish in the shocked disbelief of the Clinton camp that had branded and dismissed them as ignorant deplorables.
Millions love Trump and relish his often outrageous behavior as a richly-deserved middle-finger to the elite Eastern establishment that has ignored and patronized them so long.
Millions also love hating Trump, eagerly watching for the next little outlandish crack or act to add to their scrapbook catalogue of his coarse calumnies.
And a fair number of Americans silently watch the rich man and his beautiful wife with simultaneous fear that the commander-in-chief might do something unpredictable and frightening but with the hope that the 45th winner of our democratic contest will grow in the job like most presidents and be successful for the country, at least for one term.
But all of them watch.