With only six weeks left before the Iowa caucuses, the Republican presidential candidates are gearing up for the first major test of the United States primary season. A victory in Iowa could set the tone for the rest of the race. The fourth Republican debate is set to unfold, and it will mark a shift in tactic. Unlike the previous three debates, which took place on mainstream news networks, this one will be hosted by the 24-hour cable-news channel NewsNation.
NewsNation is not as well-known as other networks that have hosted previous debates, but experts say choosing NewsNation was strategic. Not only does it signal a rebuke to mainstream media, but it could also serve as a gesture to the current frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump. Trump has been a prominent critic of platforms like Fox News and has skipped every debate so far this election season, in part citing dissatisfaction with the debate hosts.
The former president’s refusal to participate in the debates stems, in part, from his vocal opposition to mainstream platforms. He has accused Fox News of suppressing his poll results and has made a habit of blasting media outlets he perceives as unsympathetic to his leadership. This rhetoric has been absorbed into the broader Republican field, with Trump’s rival Vivek Ramaswamy echoing his talking points during the last debate.
Trump’s continued absence from the debate stage can be understood as a slight to his four nearest rivals. The choice of a smaller platform, as well as Trump’s continued absence from the debate stage, can be seen as relegating the current four debate-active candidates to the “kiddie table.” However, the debate’s lower profile offers an advantage to the Republican Party as a whole, as it helps the party appease Trump while blunting any criticisms he might face from the debate stage.
The Republican Party has responded to fears about mainstream media with its choice of debate hosts for the 2024 race, mixing mainstream platforms with smaller, more conservative-leaning startups in an effort to reach wider audiences. For instance, every debate will be livestreamed on Rumble, an online video platform popular among conservatives. This reflects a growing disillusionment with the reigning media powerhouses, many of which are owned by a relatively small number of conglomerates.
The switch to a platform like NewsNation could pay dividends for the Republican Party, as it can reach out to the voters who represent the audience of a news network and target specific segments of voters who consume that media. The relationship can be mutually beneficial for networks like NewsNation, as it can promote its brand and be the center of the political news world.
NewsNation, owned by the media conglomerate Nexstar Media Group, advertises itself as an “unbiased” alternative to its bigger rivals. It has made a point of scooping up on-air talent let go by other networks, a fact demonstrated by its choice of debate moderators: former ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas and Megyn Kelly, previously of Fox News and NBC.
Ultimately, some experts believe the biggest winner of Wednesday’s debate could be NewsNation itself, as it launches itself into the political big leagues. While the upcoming debate may not approach the viewership of previous debates, NewsNation will likely exceed its current viewership, and the big question is whether any new viewers will return to the network. However, the outlook is optimistic, and a number of them are expected to return.
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