GOP debate a rating’s triumph, but not for all candidates

graham debateAccording to overnight Nielsen ratings, 16 percent of homes were tuned into the Fox News prime-time GOP debate between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. last night. That would make it twice as big as the previous record holder, with upward of ten million viewers. Put simply, it was the most-watched debate in history. Even the earlier debate at 5 p.m. saw an upswell of viewers tuning in to see the seven underdogs who didn’t fare as well in five national polls. Based on each candidate’s performance, they may rise in the polls or drop even further from the limelight.

The questions in both debates ran the gamut from the economy to terrorism to ISIS to even the Donald. The planet’s ecosystem didn’t fare as well. In the 5 p.m. debate, Sen. Lindsey Graham was asked about climate change, due to his earlier stance on saying it was primarily man-made and then saying it wasn’t. His reply: he would debate policy solutions, but not the underlying science. Graham has gained a reputation in his party for saying greenhouse gases are warming the planet and has even worked with Democrats on cap-and-trade legislation. All of which may sound ignoble in light of recent statements that belied his actual record on global warming.

After spending nearly two years working on a cap-and-trade program, the moderators of the first GOP debate wanted to know why voters should trust him now. Graham said, “You can trust me to do the following: that when I get on stage with Hillary Clinton, we won’t be debating about the science, we’ll be debating about the solutions.

“In her world, cap-and-trade would dominate, that we will destroy the economy in the name of helping the environment. In my world, we’ll focus on energy independence and a clean environment.”

But in 2009 and 2010, Graham worked with then-Senators John Kerry (D) and Joe Lieberman (I) to draft cap-and-trade legislation. Graham has even spoken publicly about creating laws to mitigate climate change, telling a crowd from his home state in 2010 that “I have come to conclude that greenhouse gases and carbon pollution is not a good thing.”

But when it came time to officially announce their cap-and-trade legislation, Graham pulled out of the triad, citing the Democratic leadership’s intent to move on an immigration bill before their package. Then in June 2015, Graham seemed to do a complete one-eighty, telling reporters:

“We can have a debate about global warming, and I’m not in the camp that believes man-made emissions are contributing overwhelmingly to global climate change, but I do believe the planet is heating up. But I am in the camp of believing that clean air is a noble purpose for every Republican to pursue. The key is to make it business friendly.”

As for fossil fuels, Graham told the debate moderators, “We’re going to find more here and use less. Over time, we’re going to become energy independent.” Graham said he was tired of sending “$300 billion overseas to buy oil from people who hate our guts. The choice between a weak economy and a strong environment is a false choice, that is not the choice I’ll offer America.”

“A healthy environment, a strong economy and energy-independent America — that would be the purpose of my presidency,” Graham continued. “To break the stranglehold that people enjoy on fossil fuels who hate our guts.”

Some in the media wanted climate change front and center in both debates last night, especially in light of the EPA’s recent announcement of its sweeping Clean Power Plan that will impact every state except three (no power plants). Even Governor Jerry Brown uploaded a letter to the Fox News Channel’s Facebook page, asking the GOP candidates to address climate change. And billionaire-turned-environmentalist Tom Steyer asked the debate moderators to have the candidates describe how they will combat global warming.

But the reason none of these questions were asked is simple: All were based on hot-button issues scrupulously culled by the moderators and from what Facebook users were thinking about before the debate. Climate change didn’t even crack the ‘top 5’ among the millions of engaged Facebook users. In some states, racial issues were in the top spot, but the number 1 and 2 spots were about the economy and immigration. Even LGBT issues ranked higher than climate change. This is similar to recent polls showing climate change ranking dead last among voter concerns.

Interestingly, when moderators of the prime-time debate asked some candidates what their first moves would be upon taking office, they vowed to undo the bevy of regulations crammed through under Obama’s executive orders. As Vox notes, abolishing the new EPA climate-change rules “would be a lengthy bureaucratic process.” One way around that “long and messy process,” National Journal writes, would be to stop defending the rules if they are being challenged in the courts.

What both right- and left-leaning media outlets did agree on was that the Fox News Channel moderators didn’t hold back any punches and asked questions that were both “jarring” and intended to get candidates “off their talking points” and cordoning off their “rhetorical escape routes.”

This may be why it was the most-watched prime-time debate, at least according to the early overnight Nielsen ratings. Which is good news not only for Fox and its co-sponsor Facebook, “but for other media organizations that are sponsoring Republican debates. The ‘Trump show,’ as some have called it, seems likely to continue into the fall,” reports CBS 6 news.