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Debate ratings go up without Donald Trump

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Scott Eisen/Getty Images

“Total disaster?” Not quite. 

Turns out, Fox News didn’t have to worry about its debate ratings without Donald Trump. The cable news network performed just fine in the Nielsens on Thursday night. 

In fact, debate viewership actually went up without the businessman and former reality star on stage. 

The seventh Republican debate delivered 12.5 million viewers. That’s an increase of 13 percent from the last debate with Trump in the mix earlier this month on Fox Business Network.

Trump opted to boycott the debate and stage his own rally instead after claiming Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly treats him unfairly. He predicted on Twitter that the GOP debate would be a “total disaster” with “low ratings” without him. Many political pundits echoed the same sentiment.

Factors that confound an easy “viewers didn’t care about Trump” conclusion: By dramatically pulling out, Trump almost certainly increased viewer awareness of the debate running up to last night. Plus, some viewers likely tuned in to see what the other seven candidates would say about Trump without him there. And Fox News is in more homes than Fox Business. 

And while scoring far above debates from prior election cycles, Thursday night’s debate performance is still nowhere close to the first couple GOP debates last year, which delivered a record 23-24 million for Fox News and CNN. And it was also the second least watched of the Republican debates this season.