An all-Fox debate series in 2016 would be an unmistakable signal to the country that the Republican debates are an internal conversion only: made by Republicans, talking to Republicans, for the benefit of Republicans. At a time when Republicans desperately need to reach a broader audience, making the debates an intramural affair sends the wrong message.
Moreover, the GOP move would drastically curtail the size of the audience for its debates. While the Republican debates in 2012 set records for viewership for primary debates, those records were in the 6 million to 8 million viewer range — a trivial number compared with the 50 million to 80 million viewers who watch the fall general election debates. Cutting off CNN and NBC would be removing two platforms that provided about 60 percent of the debate viewership for Republican primary debates in 2012 — and in the case of NBC, the outlet that provided some of the largest individual debate audiences.
Without NBC or CNN, more of the debates would wind up being carried live on local TV only. This would be counterproductive for the GOP because virtually no voters (outside of that local market) would wind up seeing the entire debate; they would be left with only debate “highlights,” which tend to be gaffes, unpleasant exchanges and off-message comments.