Fox News hoped to draw in massive viewership numbers for the first 2024 Republican primary debate even though former President Donald Trump opted to sit for an interview with former Fox star Tucker Carlson instead.

And while the network managed to bring in around 12.8 million viewers, according to the Nielsen ratings system, that is far short of the number the network drew in August 2015, the first GOP primary debate that included the then-soon-to-be president.

Wednesday’s viewership number is “a decline of almost 50% from the more than 24 million people who tuned in when Donald Trump appeared in his first presidential debate in August 2015,” Newsmax reported on Friday.

The outlet noted further:

The “Trump effect” was again witnessed in a January 2016 Republican primary debate hosted by Fox News that Trump also skipped — that debate also drew about 12.5 million people.

Trump said he boycotted the Republican debate this week for a number of reasons, including his large lead over other GOP rivals in the polls.

He has also expressed disappointment the Republican National Committee awarded the first two debates to Fox News, a network that has been openly hostile to him.

Fox News execs attempted to woo Trump to participate in the debate, but after he made the decision to skip, the network made a move many saw as petty.

According to a network memo obtained by Mediaite, Fox execs decided that no surrogates will be able to appear in the debate spin room for any candidate who is not on the debate stage, effectively barring advocates for the former president.

Axios first reported: “The barring of Trump surrogates from attending Wednesday’s debate at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee comes one day after the 77-year-old former president confirmed that he would not participate in the event, which will be aired on Fox News, CNN’s Alayna Treene reported on Monday.”

“The Post has confirmed that surrogates for any candidate who didn’t make the stage will not be allowed at the debate, and that it is not a Trump-specific ban. The ex-commander-in-chief’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., had said Monday that he would be attending the showdown as a surrogate for his father. His fiancée, Kimberly Guilfoyle, was also expected to show up at the event and run media for the former president, according to the Daily Caller,” the outlet added.

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CNN’s Treene tweet has since been deleted, but she cleared up some details.

“Members of Trump’s teams and his surrogates, however, are still planning on traveling to Milwaukee and are working on a resolution with the network as well as the RNC, two Trump advisers told CNN,” she tweeted.

They did, but they were barred from entering. Former Fox News personality Kimberly Guilfoyle and her fiancee, Donald Trump Jr., were not allowed to enter, according to reports.

Prior to the debate, Guilfoyle shredded her former employer over the decision.

“I think, unfortunately, for a media company that I used to work for, you would expect better,” she told Newsmax TV. “But this is just really pathetic messaging. They’re just stepping out on themselves here. It’s backfiring spectacularly. It’s taking distraction away from the focus on the debate.”

“And I’d just like to see somebody try to stop Don Jr. and me from going someplace,” Guilfoyle added.

Fox News host Bret Baier, who co-moderated the debate with Martha MacCallum, told Hugh Hewitt before the debate that Trump’s surrogates have not been “blocked” from the spin room.

At the same time, his explanation was full of caveats.

“I do want to say one other thing about, there’s all these stories out there about surrogates, Trump surrogates, and how they’re not being allowed into the debate,” Baier said. “That’s not the case at all. It’s, if they get invited to the debate, first of all, the RNC handles all the tickets. If they are an elected official, they get a ticket no matter what.”

“If they are a surrogate and they get invited, they get to go,” he added. “As far as in the spin room, it is the candidates on the stage and their delegates.”

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