President Biden turned to CNN to perform a town hall on Thursday night, marking the second time the White House has chosen the network in the past three months in this kind of format.
And the ratings were horrific, even by Biden’s standards.
According to early numbers from Nielsen Media Research, the Biden town hall from Baltimore, which was moderated by Anderson Cooper, delivered just 1.2 million viewers from 8 p.m. ET to 9:30 p.m. In the younger demographic (25 to 54-year-olds) that advertisers covet most, the commander in chief commanded a paltry 271,000 viewers.
For context in the cable news race, an average of 2.83 million viewers watched Fox News’s Tucker Carlson (8 p.m.) and the first half of Sean Hannity (9 p.m.). That’s more than 1.6 million more viewers. Meanwhile, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes (8 p.m.) and Rachel Maddow (9 p.m.) attracted an average of 1.39 million viewers in taking second place.
For even more context, Biden drew 3.4 million viewers during his first town hall as president on CNN in February. Thursday night’s audience, marking more than a 60 percent drop. For more context, the last town hall Donald Trump did with CNN occurred when he wasn’t even the Republican nominee in March 2016, when the first-time candidate captured 3.26 million viewers.
The drop in interest in what the president has to say on important issues and policy can’t be underscored enough. There’s so much at stake, particularly as it pertains to Biden’s massive Build Back Better plan, which would add at least $2 trillion in spending to an economy that is suffering the highest core inflation the country has seen in 30 years.
Here we have Biden in a free fall, with Quinnipiac’s latest polling putting him at 28 percent approval among independents and 37 percent approval overall. In the RealClearPolitics average of polls, the president is down 10 points in just three months, with his standing currently at only 42.8 percent.
Biden’s performance also likely didn’t improve the public’s perception of him, most notably during this exchange:
Cooper: “Do you have plans to visit the southern border?”
Biden: “I’ve been there before and I haven’t — I mean, I know it well. I guess I should go down. But the whole point of it is I haven’t had a whole hell of a lot of time to get down.”
On top of a light daily schedule, Biden has spent 70 days of his presidency at home in Delaware. Could he have taken at least one day to visit overwhelmed border towns in Texas such as Del Rio or La Joya? Overall, the U.S. is on pace to eclipse 2.4 million migrants entering the country illegally this year, which is more than the population of Houston, America’s fourth most populous city.
I can find no evidence that Biden has ever visited the U.S. southern border in his 50 years as a politician.
This town hall seemingly wasn’t designed to be balanced in terms of questions from the invited attendees.
Of the 12 people who asked questions of the president, seven were referred to as Democrats, while only two were Republicans and three independents. Hardly a cross-section of Americans. Cooper also did not broach the most sensitive foreign policy topic with Biden: Afghanistan.
Biden has now done three town halls since taking office, all of them on CNN.
It’s been 65 days since Biden participated in a sit-down interview. And he has yet to sit down with any reporters from the three most prominent print publications, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post. That’s perhaps because it likely would entail follow-up questions and being pressed on key issues.
But if the president truly wants to sell his agenda to the public, he needs to go to more challenging places. Or at least to networks that command bigger audiences than CNN.
Meanwhile, Vice President Harris hasn’t done a one-on-one with any major broadcast news entity since June.
The lack of confidence from the White House is telling. And all the friendly CNN town halls aren’t going to change the perception that Team Biden-Harris thinks it can play it safe with the media, just as it did during the campaign.
But this isn’t the campaign. They’re in charge now.
And if this pattern continues for the next three years or so, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris may no longer be in charge of anything.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill and a Fox News contributor.